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Flute Concertos
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Flute Concerto [18:43]
Charles T. GRIFFES (1884-1920)
Poem for Flute and Orchestra [10:10]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Ballade for flute, string orchestra and piano [7:05]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1062)
Concerto for flute and orchestra [19:29]
Thomas Jensen (flute)
South Jutland Symphony Orchestra/Giordano Bellincampi
rec. 19-21 December 2011 and April 2-3 2012, ALSION, SÝnderborg, Denmark
DANACORD DACOCD 725 [55:41]


 
The Danacord label has been around since 1979 and is known for its superior discs if often little-known Danish music. This release presents some fairly core repertoire for flute and orchestra but is Danacordís first ever SACD disc, so I can imagine they wanted a certain amount of commercial clout behind some of the composersí names.
 
Carl Nielsenís Flute Concerto is a stunning work, and if you know Nielsenís symphonies then you simply must have this and his Violin and Clarinet Concertos to go along with them. These can all be found on a very fine Chandos CD, CHAN 8894, and the inevitable comparison is therefore with Toke Lund Christiansen flute and the conducting of Michael SchÝnwandt from this complete concertos disc. Bellincampi and Thomas Jensen take the thumpingly magnificent first movement just a little broader than Schonwandt, and while kicking up plenty of rhythmic dust I feel this is to the benefit of the detail in some of the more tricky flute passages. The sound South Jutland Symphony Orchestra is punchy and energetic, as well as creating a nice atmosphere to go with the more sensitive lyrical passages. This is not quite as sumptuous a sound as with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra but has as much if not more character in general. The recorded balance between soloist is good, and the engineers are awake to Nielsenís at times almost brutal orchestration, which can momentarily and intentionally almost drown out the soloist.
 
Trawling through the catalogue and there are few performances better than Patrick Gallois on the BIS label in their superb Nielsen box set. What I like about this South Jutland version is their daringly dramatic approach to articulation and dynamics. The music is uncompromisingly craggy at times, and all of the other recordings Iíve heard to a certain extent tend to smooth things out a little. There are some cracking moments from the orchestra, such as the trombone slide at 6:07 in the second movement, which will make your socks fall off if you are not expecting it and will probably loosen your grip-tops even if you are.
 
The Poem by the American Charles T. Griffes is in a romantic idiom but is by no means a disposable bonbon. The French colours and stylistic elements are inescapable, but the mood is on the whole quite dark and moody, in particular with this performance, where the strings are allowed to lean into their notes and deliver an almost Russian, Shostakovich-ian sound at times. Frank Martinís Ballade is a staple of the flute repertoire in its version with piano, and is another piece with dark expressive elements. I always have to think of the late lamented Sebastian Bellís description of the opening scenes, which he depicted as something like a 1930s detective leaning against a nocturnal lamppost, the music building atmosphere and tension while nothing much really happens. The trademark Martin harmonic landscapes and resolutions are played here with a delicious sense of urgency and contrast, and the sense of a genuine musical event is potent here, the passion in the playing utterly gripping from beginning to end.
 
As Esben Tange states in the booklet notes, Ibertís Concerto for Flute and Orchestra is ďat the heart of the French flute tradition, where pace, tempo and suppleness of tone are indispensable qualities.Ē Thomas Jensen has bags of all of these, and combined with plenty of rough and tumble from the orchestra this is a performance which for me revises the kind of spirit which this music has always needed. I had a listen to Sharon Bezalyís BIS recording again by way of comparison (see review), and while this recording has an edge in terms of refinement I found myself bouncing around with a greater sense of joy from this Danacord performance. Timings are as good as identical between these two versions, with Bezaly only giving an extra 20 seconds or so in the final Allegro Scherzando, but just hear those syncopations from the Jutland orchestra, and those little colourations which make you think of Gershwin and Milhaud at the same time. The central Andante has a feeling of pastoral peace through which Jensenís vibrato might have been tamed perhaps a little more, but this is still a mighty fine performance and something of a tear-jerker.
 
Danacord can be proud of their first SACD outing, and with stunning performances this is a disc to treasure. Not to be confused with the Danish conductor Thomas Jensen (1898-1963), our soloists here has been heard before in works by Joachim Anderson. Jensenís tone has a fine colour, is nicely centred, with beautiful intonation and a low register for which many a player would sacrifice their entire collection of pre-war Rudall Carte cleaning rods. It is perhaps a little less glossy than Bezaly or Gallois, but I rather like this character which is in some ways comparable to that of Michel Debost, though Iím not about to start making value judgments on one player over another. In any case, as a flautist myself I donít listen to much flute music these days, but I am delighted to say I have already developed quite a large affection for this release. With a very good programme, great performances and a terrific recording, it ticks all of the boxes. Best of all, it dares to be bold and exciting, which is exactly what is needed to bust the fluteís frilly image.
 
Dominy Clements