This double CD of flute and piano music is a rare treat. The concept is to showcase British music for flute and piano written – with one exception – during the twentieth century. There are one or two relatively well known pieces that are complemented by some unknown gems. Most of the composers are familiar names to British music enthusiasts, however, Messrs. Ranish and Lamb are new to me, and, I guess to many other listeners as well.
Where does one begin to explore this excellent compilation? I suggest with what is probably the best known piece: Malcolm Arnold’s Sonata for Flute and piano, op.121; the liner notes quote op.21. Unsurprisingly, this work was written for, and dedicated to, Sir James Galway who gave the premiere in Cardiff on 19 March 1977. This is typical of the composer’s ‘colourful, exuberant and entertaining’ style. It does have some slightly more serious moments in its progress, especially in the calm middle movement, but any angst is blown away by the jazzy Latin ‘con moto ritmico’. It is a joy.
I then explored the shorter pieces. Granville Bantock’s Pagan Poem is a work that looks to the mysteries of ‘far-off lands’ and antiquity for its inspiration. It is sad and melancholic in mood, and explores a wide variety of the flute’s tonal resources; a little masterpiece.
I have always been a fan of Cyril Scott: I am grateful that so much of his music is currently available on CD. I did not know his exotic The Ecstatic Shepherd. Influenced more by the Idylls of Theocritus than the hillsides of England this lovely piece presents the listener with a hypnotic unfolding melody that espouses a drowsy afternoon in the nymph-haunted hills and meadows of Sicily.
Richard Rodney Bennett was a composer of many parts – from jazz to film scores, symphonies and concertos and his music remains a largely undiscovered country. The three-movement Summer Music (1983) lives up to the promise of its title. This is urbane music that depicts a ‘siesta’, some beach ‘games’ as well as summer moods in general.
Eugene Goossens was born in 1893, not 1896 and died in 1962 not 1952 as the track-listings on page 3 suggest: the dates are correct in the programme note section. His ‘The Breath of Ney’ (‘The breath of Ney floats down the valley’) is a miniature that is way too short. It’s the first of two Persian Idylls which were originally settings of two poems by the music critic Edwin Evans. The second (not recorded here) is The Heart of Kalyan. ‘The Breath of Ney’ has been arranged by Paul Rhodes for flute and piano.
Unfortunately, Howard Blake tends to be largely recalled for his film score to The Snowman — as well as a vast number of arrangement and transcriptions he has made of this piece. Yet his compositional achievement is far wider. His catalogue includes hundreds — some 667 currently listed on his website — of works ranging from full blown concertos, symphonies and ballet scores. The present Elegy was originally the slow movement of a Clarinet Concerto, but was re-presented in its current form in 1992. It is a complex, involved work that is ‘beautifully suited to the expressive qualities of the flute’. There are two concerts of Blake’s chamber music in London on 25 March and 17 April 2015.
An older generation of composers is represented by the 18 th century John Ranish. I have not heard of him, so was grateful for the concise mini-bio in the liner-notes. Seemingly, Ranish, who was born in 1692/3 lived most of his life in Cambridge playing and teaching the flute. Historical records show that he was well-respected and popular. He wrote twenty sonatas or ‘Solos for the German Flute with thorough-bass’ which were published in two volumes as op.1 (1735) and op.2 (1744). The present sonata is the third from Volume 2. This is a typically baroque work in three movements: ‘adagio’, ‘allegro’ and ‘giga’. The liner states that that they are ‘not particularly distinguished works’ which may be the case. However, I thought this example was musically satisfying and often quite beautiful in tone and mood. If the other nineteen are only half as good as this sonata they deserve to be heard.
Another composer that I have not come across before is Peter Lamb (1925-2013). I wish that the notes had included some biographical references to him. I quote his Facebook page which gives brief details. Peter Lamb was born in London and studied initially at Trinity College of Music and latterly with the composer Arthur Benjamin. Much of Lamb’s subsequent career was spent as a musical administrator with record companies and as deputy manager of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He was also one-time Head of Music at Peter Symonds’ college in Winchester and lectured at the University of Southampton for eight years. His compositions include a wide range of chamber music, a number of unaccompanied choral works as well as a Concerto for viola and string orchestra. This CD introduces two of Lamb’s chamber works.
Lamb’s Sonatina for flute and piano was composed in 1973 and is dedicated to his daughter, Cleone. The liner quotes the composer’s programme notes, the gist of which is that this is a ‘light-weight work in three movements presenting no problems to contemporary ears and designed simply to give pleasure both to the performers and their audience.’ Stylistic markers would be the neo-classical world and ‘Gallic charm’ of Francis Poulenc and Lennox Berkeley. The later Sonata for flute and piano (1988) is similar in intention and mood but is considerably more substantial in its construction and melodic adventures. It is a superb piece. On the basis of these two works I would love to hear the above-mentioned Viola Concerto.
One of my favourite works on this album is William Mathias ‘ early Sonatina for flute and piano. This was completed on 8 January 1953 whilst the composer, aged 18, was living in Whitland, Carmarthenshire. It was first heard on 18 April of the same year at St Cecilia’s House, London. The work won a composition prize in the 1953 Inter-college Eisteddfod. The Sonatina was dedicated to the flautist Lamond Clelland and pianist Margot Bor. It fell into desuetude until the composer revised it in 1986 and was subsequently published.
In many ways this piece is not typical of Mathias’s music as he matured yet it is an impressive work with memorable tunes. The opening allegro has some tight rhythmical action that is clearly exacting to pull-off. The middle movement is leisurely and reflective in its tone, however, it is soon pushed out of the way by an energetic ‘allegro vivace’ which propels the music to an exciting finish. It is a wholly competent work for a young composer.
Anything by Kenneth Leighton interests me immediately. In this case it is a ‘new’ work – one that I have not come across before. The Serenade in C op.19a was composed during July 1949 and was revised four years later. It was dedicated to the composer’s friend Gustav Born who played the flute. It was first heard at an Oxford University Music Club and Union concert on 13 June 1950. The Serenade is from a time when Leighton was influenced by the ‘pastoral’ school of music epitomised by Finzi and Vaughan Williams. There are nods to William Walton as well. This English ‘pastoral’ mood is prominent in the final movement.
Thomas Dunhill ‘s Suite for flute and piano, dating from around 1935, is an attractive and straightforward work that is technically accessible to younger and less virtuosic players. Yet its effect belies this relative simplicity. There are five contrasting movements including the imaginative ‘adagio non troppo: quasi improvisata’ which allows the players’ musical imagination some scope in interpretation. I was particularly impressed by the wayward finale.
York Bowen ‘s (born 1884, not 1888 as track-listings state) Sonata for flute and piano, op.120 is the big romantic work on this CD. In fact, I was amazed at just how much passion, romance and power can be invested in a work for flute. The work is post-war, having been composed in 1946. It was dedicated to Gareth Morris. The notes point out that this Sonata is ‘one of the most substantial and well written works for the flute by a British composer …’ I agree with the sentiment that suggests it is ‘perplexing as to why it remained on a library shelf in manuscript for over forty years’. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful ‘English’ mood of the ‘andante piacevole’ which seems to hark back to an imagined idyll. The finale is a dynamic, energetic and exuberant tour de force .
One forgets that Bowen was born a Victorian, came to maturity at the start of the Edwardian era and survived into the age of Rock and Roll. His music tends to reflect a quixotic mood, long deemed to have become passé, but which is unfailingly attractive to listeners.
The liner essay for this CD is excellent in spite of those few date errors that have crept in. I would have liked to have seen the dates of all the pieces included in the track-listings or in the notes.
One must not get too carried away with the repertoire and ignore the excellent playing by flautist Kenneth Smith and pianist Paul Rhodes. These are stunning performances from first to last. I accept that in many instances it is not possible to compare versions of these pieces, as there is no (or little) competition. The important fact is that this recital grabs and ultimately holds the listener’s attention.
If you like this collection you may well enjoy another Divine Art collection from these two musicians: By the River in Spring ; not to mention a long deleted British flute music collection on ASV CDDCA768 ( Folk and Fantasy ).
This two CD set is a fine compilation that will prove attractive and essential to all British music enthusiasts and all lovers of flute music.