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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Six Duo Concertantes for Two Flutes
Duo No.1 in A [9:53]
Duo No.2 in B minor [10:04]
Duo No.3 in D [9:27]
Duo No.4 in G [12:37]
Duo No.5 in C [13:21]
Duo No.6 in D [11:26]
Ginevra Petrucci, Gian-Luca Petrucci (flutes)
rec. 2011, Gulliver Master Studio, Rome.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94620 [67:47]

The first thing to say is that that this music is, perhaps, finally more satisfying to play than to listen to. What, exactly, one is listening to isn’t all that easy to pin down. Haydn, as many readers of this review will know, didn’t actually write any duos for two flutes. A booklet note by Ginevra Petrucci, after some general observations on the widespread practice of “transcribing successful compositions” during the 18th century, tells us that “The Six Duo Concertantes for two flutes, here in their world premiere recording, were transcribed from the Six Duets for two violins Op.99 (published by A. Offenbach chez F. André) that had in turn been assembled from movements of the string quartets Op.9 (1769-70) and Op.33 (1781). The version for two flutes was published in Paris by the editor Frère in 1801, eight years before Haydn’s death, and offers a wide range of Haydn’s compositional style…”. Some of this account is puzzling. Although several lists of works by Haydn speak of the Opus 99 set as consisting of six duets, the only scores I have been able to see — admittedly without present access to a large specialist music library — contain only three. In any case, these arrangements/transcriptions are not thought to be by Haydn himself. The 1801 flute transcriptions are certainly not by Haydn. So we have, with a few ambiguities, a case of double anonymous transcription/transcription. The Op.99 duets (for two violins) were created by unknown hands from materials in the String quartets opus 9 and opus 33. The transcription, apparently from these duets, for two flutes was presumably the product of a different set of hands. Unravelling the precise sources of these Duo Concertantes would be a worthwhile task for a better musicologist than me ... and one with access to more comprehensive sources. Such an exercise would, in any case, be inappropriate in a review such as this. Suffice to say that the listener will hear echoes of greater works by Haydn – and will probably long to hear the originals rather than these indirect transcriptions thereof.

Musical transcription, I’d suggest, is something akin to literary translation. It makes available something of a work in the source-language — to use the jargon of translation studies — in a different target-language, so that the original work may is accessible to those to whom it is otherwise inaccessible. For example, a Chinese poem is made accessible to English readers who have no Chinese, an English novel to a Japanese reader or, musically speaking, a symphonic score is made available to pianists — as in Liszt’s superb transcription of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Almost all translations and transcriptions involve some kind of impoverishment or diminishment, well summed up by the seventeenth-century essayist James Howell when he wrote:

Some hold translations not unlike to be,
The wrong side of a Turkey tapestry.

My increasingly faulty memory tells me – not perhaps accurately – that Cervantes somewhere says the same thing in the same way. In the difference between the rich colours of the ‘right’ side of an oriental tapestry/rug/carpet and the austere structure of stitches on its reverse lies the difference between a great original and the average translation/transcription of it. There are exceptions, where the translator or the transcriber, usually by exercising a great deal of creative freedom, effectively transcends his/her original. Commenting on the relationship between Samuel Henley’s English translation of William Beckford’s novel Vathek and its original - Beckford originally wrote the book in French - Jorge Luis Borges commented, with brilliant wit, “The original is unfaithful to the translation”. Such cases are rare indeed and these Duo Concertantes certainly don’t fall into that category. Listening to them one is far more aware of what has been lost than what has been successfully carried over into the new medium. This is, sadly, music from the ‘wrong side of the tapestry’. A shame because it is played by two very accomplished musicians who are, inevitably, fighting a losing battle, given the relative paucity of what they have to work with. As one recognizes sources one’s consciousness, pretty well every time, is of what has been lost. Even when I couldn’t identify sources, the limited tonal range of two flutes made for less than exciting listening. The relative unfamiliarity of the sound-world created by two unaccompanied flutes — however well played, and the interplay of the two flautists is very impressive — sustains one’s interest for some time. I found that mine was flagging before these almost 70 minutes of music were over and repeated hearings became quite hard work. Perhaps this CD will only give sustained pleasure to flautists eager to hear two fine fellow-instrumentalists. Perhaps they, too, would rather hear such accomplished musicians playing music of greater quality. The amateur flautists for whom such duos were originally prepared were, I hope, pleased with the results. The rest of us can, I think, give this one a miss.
 
Glyn Pursglove



 

 




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