Josef SCHWANTNER (b. 1943)
Soaring (1986) [1:35]
Looking Back (2009) [20:21]
Black Anemones (1980) [5:02]
Taking Charge (2012) [25:15]
Sarah Frishof (flute)
Daniel Pesca (piano)
Ji Hye Jung, Lee Vinson (percussion: Taking charge)
rec. January 2014, Lied Center, Lawrence, Kansas US. CENTAUR RECORDS CRC3458 [52:13]
Serious new concert repertoire for flute is relatively thin on the ground when compared to instruments such as the violin, but highly respected composer Josef Schwantner has long embraced the instrument’s “vast expressive and technical potential and the ever seductive sonic world it inhabits.” This recording brings together a fine programme of works both established and brand new, this recording of Taking Charge being a world premiere.
Soaring is a brief but intense virtuoso showpiece for both flutist and pianist, who fly in and out of each other’s lines, the piano also shadowing the flute’s notes at times to further enhance its sound. This moves into the opening of Looking Back in an almost uninterrupted stylistic line. Compos in the memory of flutist and teacher Samuel Baron, Schwantner admits to ‘looking back’ to previous works when commencing a new project, and this catalyst results here in a colourful and substantial threemovement work in which the flute is put through its paces though always with genuine musical intent and often very surprising and beautiful results. The central movement Remembering… is a flute solo, the music exploring numerous effects that transform the material into things rich and strange.
Black Anemones is transcribed from a song originally for soprano and piano, its expressively lyrical lines perfectly suited for flute, the lack of a text allowing the imagination to carry you wherever it cares to wander.
Taking Charge for flute and piccolo, percussion and piano is a sharp contrast, opening with urgent and exciting rhythms, the clarity of the recording delivering punchy depth and shimmering sparkle in the wide sonic range of the percussion instruments. The second movement is a slow piece for piccolo and atmospheric fields of sound coming initially from non-pitched percussion instruments, the low thrum of harmonic pedal tones gradually taking over while the piccolo appears to improvise with its five-note theme above. Piccolo players will inevitably think of movements from Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles and there are indeed comparisons to be made – this is a very effective combination, towards the end the piccolo removing itself and vanishing into the distance as the piano repeats a lonely tolling.
Sarah Frisof is among other things principal flute with the Dallas Wind Symphony and a frequent performer with the Dallas Symphony. She has performed with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony and Boston Symphony, and has also appeared at the Verbier, Tanglewood and Aspen music festivals. Her playing here is superb, as is that of the other musicians here. Soaring, Looking Back and Taking Charge have also appeared on the innova label with flutist Jennie Oh Brown. Comparing via a streaming service, this recording is very good but inhabits a more resonant acoustic and therefore has less clarity and power in the rhythmic movements of Looking Back. with Soaring Halo for multiple flutes makes this another Schwantner collector’s choice but if you want just one disc I think Taking Charge is the more interesting piece, and Sarah Frishof’s album the more satisfying all-round.