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French Works for Flute
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) 
Romance op.37 in D flat major (1871) [6:50]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for piano and violin (1886, edited for piano and flute by Jean-Pierre Rampal) [28:57]
Airs de ballet d’Ascanio (1887-88) [4:09]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937) 
Suite, op.34 (1877) [18:22]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-86) 
Prélude, récitatif et variations, op.3 (1928) [12:15]
Adam Walker (flute)
Timothy Ridout (viola)
James Baillieu (piano)
rec. 11-13 September 2020, Henry Wood Hall, London
CHANDOS CHAN20229 [71:01]

Camile Saint-Saëns’ Romance op.37 in D flat major was composed in 1871, in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War - but this is not a war-work. The overall impact of this lovely little piece is of a backward glance over Saint-Saëns’ life up to that point rather than a manifesto for future creativity. It is a sad and melancholy work, which is reflected in the composer’s choice of D flat major, a muted key which does not laugh but can smile.

I am not sure that M. Poirot would be happy with the inclusion of César Franck’s Sonata for piano and violin (1886). The last time I looked, Franck was born in Liège which is now part of Belgium, but in 1822 belonged to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. I guess the excuse for his inclusion in an album of French Flute Music is that he spent much of his creative life in Paris, dying there in 1890. I first heard this Sonata in its arrangement for cello and piano (it has been reworked for many instruments, including tuba, double bass and organ with choir!) and it is surely one of the great sonatas for any instrument. For me, it works remarkably well in this transcription devised by the French flautist, Jean-Pierre Rampal. I guess that the ultimate success of this version/recording is that it makes the listener feel that Franck conceived this sonata for the flute. I have not heard the recordings made by James Galway and Martha Argerich (RCA LRL1 5095) and Sharon Bezaly with Vladimir Ashkenazy (BIS 2259) (reviewed here).

Saint-Saëns’ Airs de ballet d’Ascanio (1887-88) was written for his opera Ascanio in 1890 and appears in its third act. This interlude was given a standing ovation at its premiere performance by flautist Paul Taffanel on 21 March 1890. Lasting just over four minutes this little “divertissement” balances a heartfelt Adagio followed by a vibrant Variation on the opening theme.

Everyone knows Charles-Marie Widor’s Tock-itta for organ but fewer know the ten organ symphonies. As for the rest of the composer’s catalogue it is largely a closed book, even for enthusiasts of French music. Amongst the orchestral symphonies, piano concertos, ballets and piano music there is the Suite, op.34, composed in 1877.  This four-movement work presents a subtle equilibrium between classical and Romantic music, with hints of Debussy. The flute writing balances pastoral charm in the opening Moderato and the lovely Romance, with passages of considerable virtuosity, seen to great effect in the closing Final as well as the second movement Scherzo. It is no surprise that the Suite has remained one of the few of Widor’s non-organ works to retain its place in the repertoire.

If Widor’s Suite sometimes nods towards Impressionism, Maurice Duruflé’s perfectly proportioned Prélude, récitatif et variations, op.3 for flute, viola and piano, is a masterclass in the genre. However, not only in Impressionism; he pushed his style here toward Olivier Messiaen and absorbed medieval plainchant and modal harmony.  This remarkable piece was premiered on 12 January 1929, when Duruflé was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire. For a composer whose reputation is based on several organ works and an outstanding Requiem, Durufle’s Prélude, récitatif et variations, op.3 will be a wonderful discovery for many listeners. As a footnote, his Trois Dances op.6 and the Andante & Scherzo op.8, both for orchestra, are two non-organ pieces that deserve to be revived.

The playing on this CD by the flautist Adam Walker and his piano accompanist James Baillieu is superb – and not forgetting violist Timothy Ridout’s contribution in the Duruflé.  The liner notes, provided in English, German and French, are excellent. The font size is a little small. The front cover lacks imagination; the beatific, heavenward gaze of the soloist, does not really encourage the shopper to pick up this CD and explore the treasures within. 

This is an absorbing CD, which presents some interesting French music which is just a little off the beaten track. Listeners will find every piece here captures their imagination from the first to the last bar. Hopefully there are further avenues for Adam Walker to explore in the repertoire of French (and maybe even British) flute music.

John France

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