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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Flute Sonata in A flat major op.39, J.199, arranged by A. E. Müller for flute and piano from the Piano Sonata No. 2, op.39, J.199 (1816) [30:23]
Grand Duo Concertant in E flat major, op.48, J.204, arranged by Kazunori Seo for flute and piano from the Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet or violin (1816) [20:13]
Trio in G minor, op.63, J.259 for flute, cello and piano (1819) [23:42]
Kazunori Seo (flute), Makoto Ueno (piano), Shohei Uwamori (cello)
rec. 2017, Grand Auditorium, Mie Center for the Arts, Tsu, Mie Prefecture, Japan
NAXOS 8.573766 [74:39]

One might wonder, is there really an entire disc’s worth of chamber music for flute by Carl Maria von Weber? And the answer would be, you can assemble one if you make some arrangements. Of the three pieces on this album from Naxos, only one is fully authentic Weber; the other two are arrangements of Weber compositions, one done during Weber’s lifetime from one of his piano sonatas, and the other a modern version by flautist Kazunori Seo that replaces the clarinet part with a flute.

The results, somewhat surprisingly, are effective and for the most part rather convincing. The “flute sonata” is a period arrangement of Weber’s second piano sonata in A flat by a somewhat older contemporary of the composer, A.E. Müller. The results are really quite astonishing; Müller did an outstanding job of converting the piano sonata, allowing the flute to provide textures that are missing from the original, and in significant ways improving upon Weber’s work. Indeed, listening to the piano sonata now, it feels thin and sad, as if it’s missing a substantial part. This adaptation is quite masterful. While the flute sometimes simply takes the top line from the piano, at other times it fills in and interacts with the middle voices of the piano in imaginative ways that are not at all present or even suggested in the original. The third movement, a Minuetto capriccioso, is one of the best segments on the disc; it’s a great deal of fun and the performers give it everything. The composition remains a rather formidable challenge for the pianist, but Ueno handles it with aplomb. Seo’s flute is sensitive and comes across well in this sonata, though on occasion he has some high notes that I find harsh and unpleasant.

The Grand Duo Concertant, op.48, was written for clarinet or violin by Weber, and Seo himself here adapts it for flute. It’s for the most part a straight transcription, with slight adjustments for brief segments where the clarinet dips below the range of a flute. This adaptation is less successful than Müller’s, in large part because there are many spots (particularly in the first movement) where the throaty depth of a clarinet is sorely missed and a flute, even in the hands of someone talented as Seo, just can’t manage the sound quality that’s needed. The second movement Andante con moto nevertheless has some gorgeous, somber textures and is fully absorbing. The final Rondo in a bumptious 6/8 comes across quite well since it allows the lightness of the flute to shine.

The final piece is the one authentic Weber work, his Trio in G minor for flute, cello and piano, op.63. I was not previously familiar with this piece, but it’s quite outstanding. Weber demonstrates his mastery of the three voices in the first movement with the hauntingly beautiful main theme being passed from one to another, always in perfect balance. The joyous second subject is a delightful contrast full of even more complex interplay, and then the two are woven together in a stunning tapestry of sound. The second movement Scherzo is wild and tempestuous, with the flute part bringing to mind the image of a whirling dervish or a perpetual motion machine. While the cello doesn’t have much to do here, it gets to shine in the third movement Schäfers Klage (Shepherd’s Lament), a Schubertesque lied that is tremendously moving. The Finale is a study in contrasts, beginning with a mad accelerando, followed by numerous tempo changes and dramatic volume alterations that are often surprising and in full sturm und drang mode.

Kazunori Seo seems to be the flautist of choice on the Naxos label; he’s also found playing the flute music of Beethoven, Czerny, WF Bach, among others for them. His playing is usually solid and pleasant, though as noted there are a few high notes I found to be rather piccolo-like in their piercing quality. One thing I particularly like about his playing is that Seo doesn’t let the ends of notes tail off slightly as seems to be common among flautists. When called for, he can produce a surprisingly muscular tone from his flute.

The sound quality of the disc is overall quite satisfactory, being recorded in a moderately reverberant space that gives plenty of life to the flute without it being swamped in echoes. The dynamic contrasts are not always clear; places marked fortissimo in the score are sometimes not that different from those marked piano. One could wish for more care in the engineering in this regard, which I find a frequent issue with Naxos recordings. The accompanying notes are rather scanty.

Mark S. Zimmer

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