Kenneth Smith is known to many as the long standing principal flute player of the Philharmonia. An unassuming man, he has developed a reputation as one of the UK’s best flute players, and it is clear from this recording that he is a consummate musician.
Beginning with Martinu’s Sonata, this disc is a feast for the ears. The first movement is lyrical and somewhat understated, drawing the listener in. The second movement is exquisitely played, with dark harmonies and rich tone colours. The performers have been working together for over twenty years and one senses an instinctive communication between them. Paul Rhodes is an excellent accompanist who plays with impressive sensitivity, as well as taking centre-stage where required. This is a dramatic work, composed in 1945 at the request of René Le Roy. The three movements contain both rhythmic and harmonic complexities which drive the music forward. This is an excellent performance throughout.
Roussel’s set of four short pieces, Joueurs de Flûte , is a tribute to four legendary flute players from different cultures; Pan tells of the famous flute-god, who is half man and half goat and falls in love with the nymph Syrinx; Tityre is a Shepherd boy from the Eclogues by Virgil; Krishna is a flute-playing Indian god, while Monsieur de la Péjaudie is a character from a novel by Henri de Régnier. Smith and Rhodes perform each movement with a strong sense of character, from the frivolous and lively Tityre to the dreamy Pan.
Enesco’s Cantabile and Presto is one of a number of works written as a test-piece for the Paris Conservatoire, and is well known in the flute’s repertoire. In this performance, the Cantabile is luxurious and indulgent, and slower than some other interpretations, but Smith and Rhodes judge the spacing so well that it is unquestionably successful. The Presto is played with a sense of lightness and is well controlled.
Perhaps the least known composer of this disc, Melanie Bonis was a student of Franck’s at the Paris Conservatoire. Rich and sumptuous, this sonata contains expressive melodic lines and interplay between the flute and piano, which is played with panache by these experienced performers.
Debussy’s Syrinx is possibly the best known solo flute work, and there are as many different interpretations as there are performances. Here, Kenneth Smith makes use of rubato to give a flexible performance which is expressive and imaginative. He deploys tone colours to give variety to his sound and provides a convincing set of musical ideas.
The final work on the disc is Schubert’s Variations which make use of the theme from Trockne Blumen from Die Schöne Mullerin . This is an epic work for the flute, lasting half an hour on this recording. The dark introduction is well judged and entices the listener onwards. Smith performs the theme with a vocal lyricism which is tinged with sorrow. The variations that follow are expertly performed, with Smith demonstrating impressive breath control and a wonderful tone quality throughout. The technically demanding passages are performed with ease by both musicians, and Rhodes makes an excellent job of the virtuoso piano passages. By contrast, the slower, more expressive moments are performed with sensitivity and understanding.
This is a wonderful disc, both in terms of the repertoire and the quality of the performance. It is the sort of playing that makes you sit up and listen; the artistry of these musicians is impressive and demands attention. I can’t wait to hear the duo’s next CD, of British music, due in early 2009.