These two discs of music from the British Isles for flute and piano reveal a staggering variety of approaches. The twofer is actually a set of reissues, and recording dates are 1989, 1992, and 2007. The second disc, originally entitled The Reed of Pan and on the ASV label, was reviewed by Kevin Bazzana in Fanfare 17:4 in a brief and somewhat dismissive review: “The music is pleasant enough. All the pieces feature the ingratiating, impressionistic, rather faceless tonal idiom so prevalent in twentieth-century English music”: I remain unsure about the designation “Impressionistic” but I take the point about the tonal idiom, and even of it being rather faceless (having been exposed to masses of this stuff of this ilk every Saturday morning in a weekend music school in Bury, Lancashire, UK, for years on end in my formative years).
Interesting that the compilation starts out with Malcolm Arnold’s Flute Sonata, a piece whose first movement is rather more dissonant than one might expect from this composer. It is nearly three minutes in to the first movement before one of that composer’s long, lyrical melodies makes itself known. Paul Rhodes’s playing seems intent at various points on playing up a debt to Hindemith (and indeed here are two composers fully conversant with the idea of Gebrauchsmusik). The finale is typical Arnold high-jinks, contrasted here with Bantock’s Pagan Poem, wherein the flute seems initially to put an English slant on Debussy’s Prelude de I’apres-midi d’unfaune. This is a far finer work, fragrant (though of ancient English hills, rather than the pastoral ones of, say, Vaughan Williams); in a similar vein is Cyril Scott’s enigmatic The Ecstatic Shepherd for solo flute.
By his own admission, Peter Lamb (1925-2013) holds no terrors for the conservative listener. The sonatina is the first of the 2007 recordings heard on this twofer (the Arnold was from 1989, the Bantock 1992) and it is immediately closer in the sound-space. The central Andante is actually rather lovely (it sounds more like an Adagio, though), and Smith’s breath control is everything one might ask for. Lamb has admitted a French influence in his writing, and actually ends the work with a short quote from the opening of Poulenc’s Flute Sonata. His 1988 Flute Sonata is heard on the second disc and includes a beautifully written opening moderate, varied and interesting; a pity the central Aria is somewhat nondescript.
The Leighton was written in 1949 but was lost for a full 40 years. The piece holds much beauty in its opening “Romanza,” while the spikier, active central scherzo offers plenty of challenges to both players. The work ends with a “Pastorale” of much delicacy. Another work that had to wait for publication was William Mathias’s Sonatina (1953, published 1987). Less than eight minutes in toto, it is nevertheless expertly crafted and includes a haunting central Andante cantabile. Richard Rodney Bennett’s Summer Music (published in 1983) includes a rather sophisticated central “Siesta” before the spike “Games” rounds off this effective and successful piece.
Eugene Goosens (1893-1962) wrote The Breath ofNey in 1918 (a ney is a type of Persian flute). His work is perfumed (but still recognizably English), and actually one of the finest pieces in the present collection. It’s also good to see a piece by Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946), an underrated composer whose cause has been taken up by a variety of labels, and this is a happy addition. Particularly lovely is the Andante amabile eplacido, the first of two slow movements. Certainly, this is one of the highlights of the program.
Readers may be familiar with the name Howard Blake for his “Walking in the Air” from The Snowman. The Elegy here was originally the slow movement of his clarinet concerto, where it was called “Ceremony.” There is no doubting Blake’s melodic gift, and there are moments of harmonic magic here, too.
The name of John Ranish (died 1777) was new to me (he’s also new to the Fanfare Archive). Active for most of his life in Cambridge, he wrote 20 sonatas. Obviously we hear the accompaniment here on modern piano; the piece is actually quite a fine one, particularly the opening Adagio. The contrast in idiom, in the context of the present program, is indeed welcome, and the performance here is most stylish. Finally, there is York Bowen’s Flute Sonata of 1946 (again, a work that lay in MS for over 40 years). The long (nearly nine minutes) first movement is wide ranging and exudes a sense of Brahmsian breadth; the Andante piacevole is English through and through.
Kenneth Smith was principal flute of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra for many years, so that should give some idea of his pedigree and stature. All performances are of the highest standard.
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