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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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François DEVIENNE (1759-1803)
Flute Concertos - 1
Flute Concerto No. 1 in D (1782) [17:35]
Flute Concerto No. 2 in D (1783) [17:12]
Flute Concerto No. 3 in G (1784) [15:18]
Flute Concerto No. 4 in G (178?) [16:38]
Patrick Gallois (flute)
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
rec. Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden, May 2013
NAXOS 8.573230 [66:42]

When I first heard Devienne's music, several decades back — it was the Flute Concerto No. 2, played by Peter-Lukas Graf, on an HNH Records LP — I was seduced by its melodious warmth, full-bodied Classical sonorities, and expressive, idiomatic flute writing. Further opportunities to hear the composer's music have come rarely, though Marc Grauwels's recording of the same concerto (Naxos 8.555918) reinforced my initial positive impressions.

I enjoyed these performances, too, although, unlike its predecessors — and despite the presence of a French soloist — they don't sound particularly French. Flutist Patrick Gallois produces a tone that, while noticeably aerated, is well-focused and well-tuned, avoiding the hard-edged sounds of the popular virtuosi of the recent past. He has the dexterity to make the scales, arpeggios, and other figurations sound easy, and the musicality and dash to make them sound purposeful: they're flashy without being insistent. At the same time, he can spin and shape a long-breathed, pensive line, as in the Adagio of the Second Concerto.

The most substantial of the works on this disc, the first of a projected series, is the Fourth Concerto. The opening unison, with prominent horns reinforcing the strings, sounds unusually solid, especially as juxtaposed with the flute's airy lightness; compare their respective statements of the second theme. An extended detour into the minor disturbs the movement's basically cheerful demeanour. In the other two movements — a brief, comparatively simple Romance and an easygoing, more vigorous Rondo — the orchestra provides a firm framework for the flute's embellished lines.

The ritornello of the Second Concerto is more conventional, light in texture at the start, then opening into the first of several bold, rhythmic tuttis; the one that begins the recapitulation is positively majestic. The flute part incorporates sweeping upward legato scales that, in Gallois's rendering, are graceful and liquid. The introspective Adagio, after a bit of protracted indecision on the dominant, moves without pause into the lively closing Rondo, which is like a Mozart serenade in spirit.

The First Concerto has its appealing moments. Pizzicato-based textures at the start evoke the galant style; the opening of the Adagio, stark and dramatic, suggests Baroque opera; the finale stays light on its feet, even in its vigorous tuttis. Some of the writing, however, sounds too "notey". The violins seem to be playing a lot of running semiquavers in the first movement, and the embellished flute lines of the Adagio are distracting, although Gallois still manages to sustain a dignified tone. The sheer volume of decoration, however, simply overwhelms the Third Concerto, which sounds more Rococo than solidly Classical, despite its occasional attempts at gravity.

The Swedish Chamber Orchestra — presumably directed by Gallois, though that's not explicitly stated — contributes full-bodied, stylish playing. In the Second Concerto's first movement, the cellos and basses take up the main motif with an impressive lightness. Elsewhere, a bit more low-end reinforcement wouldn't have hurt, although the sonority is well enough supported.

Despite my reservations, I'm looking forward to further installments in this series.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.