It is always interesting to come across a piece of Widor that is not written for organ. Recent years have seen a greater exploration of this composer’s works which include symphonies, concertos and a considerable range of chamber works. The statistics of record releases (Arkiv) tell the full story – 246 CDs including his organ music, 50 reflecting chamber music, 8 recordings of orchestral music and one of his songs. There are more than 82 versions of his ubiquitous Toccata from the Fifth Organ Symphony.
The Suite for flute and piano is regarded as one of Widor’s finest chamber works. It was written in 1877 for the flautist Paul Taffanel (1844-1908). The liner-notes explain that it was as a result of Taffanel’s development of flute technique that many French composers were inspired to write for the instrument.
The listener could be forgiven for imagining this technically demanding Suite is really a Sonata by another name. Yet, the composer felt that as the first movement was not written in sonata-allegro form with traditional exposition, development and recapitulation, it was best to refer to it as a Suite. Irrespective of its status this is a stunningly beautiful work that well reflects the ‘contrasting timbres of the flute and piano’.
Cecile Chaminade’s Concertino was originally written for flute and orchestra in 1902. A few years later she made an arrangement for flute and piano. The liner-notes suggest that it was an examination piece for flute students at the Paris Conservatoire. There is a long-standing (doubtless untrue) legend that Chaminade wrote this work to punish a flute-playing lover after he had left her for another woman. She decided to write a piece so fiendishly difficult that even this Lothario would be unable to play it. The resultant work, whatever the true story, is clearly technically difficult, yet it never becomes merely an academic exercise. This is an attractive piece that deserves its place in the flute and piano repertory. Interestingly there are a number of recordings of this work in its orchestral guise, but the present CD seems to be the only one of the chamber arrangement currently available. I have found that James Galway included the piece on his 1997 album Music for my Friends but this seems to have been deleted from the catalogue.
Like many works that are entitled ‘Sonatine’, Henri Dutilleux’s example is certainly not a ‘prentice work designed to hone the neophyte’s playing skills. This work displays ‘formidable technical demands’ on both players, but especially the flautist. It was written as a commission from the Paris Conservatoire in 1942.
Dutilleux was a fastidious composer who unfortunately destroyed most of his early music. His official Op. 1 is the 1947-8 Piano Sonata. The notes suggest that the Flute Sonatine is the only work predating this that has survived: this is not correct. There is also an oboe sonata, a Sarabande and cortège for bassoon and piano, Au gré des ondes , 6 petites pièces pour piano and a number of songs.
The Sonatine is in three sections but is heard as one continuous movement. The work combines lyricism, a certain mysticism and fiendishly difficult cadenzas.
The Flute Sonata by the Georgian composer Otar Taktakishvili sounds like Malcolm Arnold meets Prokofiev. A largely lyrical work, there are some darker moments. The outer movements are characterised by considerable wit and a vivacious style of writing. The middle ‘aria’ is deeply felt and rather wistful in mood. Taktakishvili is a composer I have not come across before, but based on this Sonata, he seems a worthy cause for exploration. Alas, apart from numerous recordings of the present work there are only two other CDs mentioned in the Arkiv catalogue – the Piano Concerto No.1 and the Violin Concerto No. 2.
Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango (1986) is too well-known to require much commentary. However it is interesting to note that the present recording for flute and piano is a premiere of this arrangement. Piazzolla, in his fusion of the tango with the ‘wide range of Western musical elements’ has done for the tango what Bartok did for Rumanian folk music and Erik Chisholm has done for Scottish ‘piobaireachd’. The present ‘Histoire’ charts the historical progress of the tango from the bordellos of the early 1900s to the concert halls and recital rooms of the 1980’s. Two stopovers are made at a Café in 1930 and a Night Club in 1960. It is a fine work that has become justifiably popular. I enjoyed this attractive version for flute and piano and it deserves to become successful.
All in all, this is a fascinating CD. The playing by Odinn Baldvinsson, flute and Patricia Romero, piano is superb in every way. All of these works are technically demanding. The recording is excellent. The notes are clear, easy to read and immediately helpful.
For all enthusiasts of flute music this disc is a must. My favourite work was the Widor, but all the other pieces are of huge interest and musical value.