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Early 20th Century Jewels
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Flute (1915) [17:59]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Trio for Flute, Viola & Cello (1929) [15:46]
Albert HUYBRECHTS (1899-1938)
Sonatina for Flute & Viola (1934) [19:51]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Concertino for Flute/Piccolo, Viola & Double Bass (1925) [16:16]
Nozomi Kanda (flute, piccolo)
Daniel Rubenstein (viola)
Ingrid Procureur (harp)
Didier Poskin (cello)
Koenraad Hofman (double bass)
rec. 2014, Brussels
DUX 1340 [70:09]

This fascinating release groups four composers, near contemporaries, whose lives straddled the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Two of them, Debussy and Roussel, were French, Huybrechts was Belgian and Schulhoff Czech. The common denominator, in each case, is the flute and viola, two instruments which almost certainly complement each other. Each composer carefully selected a particular configuration of instruments in an attempt to achieve a unique sound colour.

Of all the works here, the Debussy will be the most familiar, and it has been generously well-served on disc. I have a particular affection for the Decca recording by the Melos Ensemble (Cecil Aronowitz (viola), Osian Ellis (harp) and Richard Adeney (flute)). That recording may be showing its age sound-wise, but this newcomer is top of the range. The Sonata was composed at the end of Debussy's life, one of a projected cycle of six for various instrumental combinations. His final illness intervened: he only completed three. I like the way he assigns different characters to each instrument. The flute has a pastoral mien, the viola offers eloquent vocality, whilst the harp provides the magic. Ingrid Procureur's playing has a charming elfin-like delicacy. The work surfs the waves of many changes of tempo and mood. Some performances I have heard sound disjointed. Here there is an overarching integrated logic to the overall scheme.

The Roussel Trio for Flute, Viola and Cello, Op. 40 was commissioned by, and dedicated to, the notable patroness of the arts Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. It was premiered in Paris on 30 October 1929 by Georges Barrère (flute), Lionel Tertis (viola) and Hans Kindler (cello). The score was completed in fifteen days in September 1929. The flute assumes the role of primus inter pares. In three movements, two outer lively ones frame a central Andante, with the writing marked by concision and a contrapuntal fluency. The musicians' stylish playing is a strong positive.

The Belgian Albert Huybrechts must undoubtedly be the least-known of the composers here. Perhaps it will be helpful to say a few words about him. He came from a musical family; his father was a bass player in a local orchestra. He trained at the Royal Brussels Conservatory from the young age of eleven. He devoted his short life to composition, living much of it in poverty, and dying at the age of 39 from kidney failure. His Franco/Belgian credentials are revealed in the delightful Sonatina for Flute and Viola frtom 1934. In the lively and sparkling first movement, the flute is in the spotlight; the viola takes on something of an accompanying role. The slow movement is more of a dialogue, where an underlying melancholy pervades. The finale is high-spirited and vivacious. The viola provides some enticing motoric accompanying rhythms.

Schulhoff's four-movement Concertino for Flute/Piccolo, Viola & Double Bass was written over four days in May and June 1925. Harmonically audacious, it draws on Bohemian folklore, especially in the dance rhythms of the second and fourth movements. In the third, a folk tune from the Carpathian region is intoned by the flute. The composer's choice of instruments is effectual especially, for instance, when the piccolo is pitched against the double bass. The latter instrument confers a burnished sonority to the mix. The contrasting textures and moods are irresistible and seductive.

The works showcase a pleasing blend of tonal hues, and the performers have a real feel for the music. Their enthusiasm, commitment and outstanding musicianship secure the performances' success.

Stephen Greenbank

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