Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)
Flute Concerto in D (1817?) [18:55]
Flute Concerto in E minor (1814) [20:21]
Flute Concerto in E (1813) [21:16]
Raffaele Trevisani (flute)
Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. Moscow Music Center, January 2005
DELOS DE3372 [60:30]

These performances are most noteworthy for their orchestral playing. "Chamber" in size it may be, but the Moscow Chamber Orchestra produces a big, full sonority anchored by buzzy, resonant basses, producing larger-framed performances, in the Russian manner, than this repertoire usually receives.

This isn't to suggest that the performances are unstylish. In the [ii] of the E major concerto, the sonority does feel bottom-heavy; the repeated bass notes also tread a bit heavily in the Andante alla siciliana of the D major concerto. On the other hand, similar repeated notes in the latter's closing Polacca, lightly accented, anchor the cheerful flute theme with a nice marziale feeling. At the start of the Largo of the E minor, where the basses double the theme - unusual for the Classical period - the very first chord isn't balanced properly and sounds vaguely "wrong"; after that, the full sound is welcome, and the violins bring a nice lightness to the closing phrases as they rise above the solo line. The bigger sound also underlines the operatic turbulence in the opening ritornello of the same concerto. The E major concerto, performed in the full-orchestra rather than the string-orchestra version, sounds particularly impressive: even with the winds taking a mostly supporting role, the additional amplitude brings a touch of grandeur. Throughout the programme, the lyric, secondary themes are phrased with an airy grace, and, in the E major, with real elegance. Rhythmic address is consistently alert.

I don't mean to slight the contribution of the soloist, Raffaele Trevisani, though his strengths and weaknesses mirror those of Patrick Gallois, who's been recording this repertoire for Naxos. He's an accomplished technician, deft in the busywork, spinning out seemingly endless runs with little problem in the first movement of the E major concerto. He's at his best in the clear, warm cantabiles of the slow movements, which he inflects spaciously - even if his flexibility can sound a bit studied - and in the dotted rhythms of the E minor's Rondo russo, which are buoyantly cheerful.

On the negative side, in the first two pieces here, Trevisani overblows slightly above the stave, so that, as with Gallois, the mildly chiffy timbre we hear in the midrange turns edgy. Oddly, he has the air flow under much better control in the E major. A single pushed top note at 9:44 of the Allegro maestoso sticks out; otherwise, he intones high notes with clarity, as at 6:01, and tapers phrases as they move through them, as at 3:14 of the Largo.

The music, as usual, is pleasing. Mercadante was an operatic composer in the bel canto style, and that influence is everywhere apparent: in the virile Classical cut of its opening movements; in the poised, expansive slow movements; and in the jaunty, swaggering finales. That Rondo russo sounds more nearly all'ungherese here, but it's fetching, and concludes more firmly and satisfyingly than on the Naxos issue, where Gallois, both playing and directing, literally had his hands full.

The long, resonant acoustic sounds entirely appropriate to these performances, and certainly doesn't hurt the music; the flute registers crisply and clearly against the orchestra.

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

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