Between 1808 and 1819, under the learned instruction of Giovanni Furno, Giacomo Tritto and Nicola Zingarelli, Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante learnt to play the violin, cello, bassoon, clarinet and flute; this on top of grasping the skills of composition. Mercadante was an Italian composer who developed operatic structures, melodic styles and orchestration extending the possibilities within a musical score. Known in the 19th
century as the operatic composer of Elisa e Claudio
, he is now associated with instrumental works which he wrote between 1814 and 1820. The most well-known of these, his Flute Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 57,
is featured on this CD. These works tend to follow the Italian fast-slow-fast scheme. Within this framework the orchestra introduces, links and concludes themes, leaving the dazzling solos for the flute. It also provides harmonic and rhythmic support to fall back on and catch one’s breath.
With a varied and extensive repertoire which includes numerous contemporary discs as well as traditional flute concertos, the French flautist and conductor of the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, Patrick Gallois (b.1956) polishes a forgotten gem of the flautist’s canon. Born in Linselles, near Lille in Northern France, Gallois entered the Conservatoire de Paris and was taught by Jean-Pierre Rampal, winning the First Prize in just two years. Interestingly, Rampal was instrumental in reintroducing the previously forgotten Mercadante and recorded the Concertos in D major, E major and E minor.
Opening like an overture to an opera, the orchestra launch into the Second Concerto
which is filled with daring rhythmic patterns and bel canto
melodic passages. Gallois surmounts the difficulty of high speed passages, octave leaps, extended chromatic passages, ascending and descending scales, irregular rhythmical groupings, repeated and prolonged syncopations and unusual dynamics, to produce a swimmingly coherent whole. The final movement (Rondo russo
)) flips between major and minor with alacrity and demonstrates flair and virtuosity to impress the listener all in a light-hearted spirit. Mercadante’s idiomatic composition for the flute is organic and natural, and is both highlighted and supported by the strings-led accompaniment.
Inventive, imaginative and energetic, Mercadante’s Flute Concerto No. 4
requires the everyone to be fearless and steadfast. Broadly following the same pattern as the Flute Concerto No. 2
this piece differs in the final movement (marked Polacca brillante
) where a more daringly ‘Romantic’ spirit can be heard through its fiery dance. Divided into five flute entries, with effortless Italianate rhythms and a fourth theme which modulates into the minor; each segment is pithy and intricate. Even so, zesty and springy sounds burst from Gallois’s flute.
Completed in 1813 and written for fellow student, Pasquale Buongiorno, Mercadante’s Flute Concerto No.1 in E major, Op. 49,
is technically demanding throughout. At this time, Mercadante was interested in exploring the range of possibilities of the flute; then a new instrument. This, in turn, tests the limits of the flautist with octave leaps, arpeggios and runs. In each solo section, the orchestra is muted, rendering the overall impression to be operatic. The Largo
is a darkling soprano-like lament where Mercadante uses coloratura bel canto
styles to embellish a mellifluous melody. Gallois plays the ‘a capella’ part of this section with emotive compassion. Again, the final movement is where Mercadante surprises the listener - who, due to the sheer theatricality of what we hear, I am tempted to call a member of an audience - as he interweaves nifty key changes and unexpected suspensions.
Throughout, the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä’s full sound can be fully appreciated: never too boisterous yet never too timid. The sound is finely balanced and is supple enough to allow the flute solos to blend and dip into the orchestral backdrop. With a strong string and wind section and Gallois at the helm, this would be a most welcome addition to a flute enthusiast’s collection.
And a second review ...
In his day, Mercadante was noted primarily as an opera composer, alongside his bel canto
contemporaries Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. In our day, despite the occasional efforts of enterprising impresarios and record companies, his operas have fallen out of the repertoire. It's his seven flute concertos, championed a few decades back by James Galway, that we're more likely to encounter.
In the three concertos offered here, the composer transfers his operatic idiom and aesthetic to purely symphonic writing, and most effectively. The openingritornello
of the E minor concerto, with its incisive minor-key dramatics, might be setting the stage for a Classical scena
; note, however, how the lyrical second theme relaxes within the same basic pulse. The Largo
of the E major concerto
is grave and unsettled. Even the sunny opening of the G major concerto "goes dark" here and there, briefly ducking into the minor.
Similarly, many of the flute lines incorporate the rapid scales, quick turns, and other embellishments of the bel canto
style. Soloist Patrick Gallois shines in these passages, manoeuvring deftly with clear, liquid tone through the varied passagework while giving it shape. He sounds more at ease dispatching these phrases, in fact, than he does in the sustained melodies, which sound comparatively stiff and unvaried. In the lyrical second subject of the G major's first movement, Gallois even sounds like he's over-blowing in the highest passages, which push slightly though not offensively sharp. In his adventurous cadenza to the E major's Largo
, however, he's sensitive to the emotional colours of the shifting harmonies.
Outside of the opening, sonata-form movements, however, Mercadante is less consistently successful. In the E minor concerto, the Largo
, which poses as a short operatic scena
, ends before it's said anything, while the generic musical gestures of the rondo russo
finale suggest the "Hungarian" writing of Brahms and Liszt,
than anything particularly Russian. The finale of the G major seems overly laid back for a polacca brillante
. Conversely, another polacca brillante
in the E major concerto, lilting in the lighter passages and more heavily marked in tutti
, is effective.
Serving as his own conductor, Gallois has practical orchestral matters well in hand. Save for a few untoward groans from the basses in the E major concerto, the playing is polished and disciplined. Coordination and balances are uniformly excellent, with none of the orchestral lagging that occurs in some soloist-led piano concertos. Gallois's double duty has its drawbacks as well. The endings of the E minor and G major concertos both hang fire - they basically just stop, inconclusively - and the Largo espressivo
of the latter begins rather inertly, only picking up interest as it proceeds. I suspect a separate conductor could have shaped these and other passages more assertively.
Still, there's some beautiful music here, beautifully played and veteran listeners will find Gallois's sound a nice foil to that of Galway (RCA).
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
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