Diversions’ team must themselves have had their attention diverted when it came to working on the design of this CD, its font and colour schemes reminiscent of gaudy 1990s websites. Yet this tribute to Claude-Paul Taffanel (1844-1908), founder of the so-called ‘French Flute School’, famed for its elegant legato-vibrato sound, is a disc that should not be judged by its cover. Highly experienced British flautist Kenneth Smith, with a little help from Irish pianist Paul Rhodes, in fact offers a varied, extended and delightful treat for jaded ears.
In fairness, the booklet notes are informative, well written and neatly laid out, with cheerful colour photos, biographies of performers and details of other recordings by them available on Divine Art. The recordings were in fact made two decades ago, and previously appeared on ASV (WHL 2102).
Smith and Rhodes’ programme consists of works that mostly have a direct link of some sort with Taffanel. Several are strictly unnecessary transcriptions, like ‘The Swan’, ‘En Bateau’, Vocalise and ‘Méditation’. Virtuosic others, such as Briccialdi’s Carnival of Venice and Borne’s ‘Carmen’ Fantasy, are undeniable war-horses. There is one not-so-classic, a very young Chopin’s Rossini Variations, still worth hearing for its curiosity value, and another work that is as relaxing as its name suggests, Godard’s Three-Piece Suite. Finally, a recording of the still-neglected Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino and Philippe Gaubert’s short but atmospheric Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando.
Yet whatever the music’s status, Smith is effortlessly superb in his coloratura technique and expressive phrasing, filling these works with clean summer oxygen and a sprightly skip. He performs, thankfully, with none of the schmaltz or swagger of James Galway, and neither are the arrangements he plays (and makes) here of the crossover kind frequently favoured by Galway. This is a recital to savour, in other words, enhanced further by good quality audio, with no danger of distortion in the flute even at full volume in its highest register. Smith’s gulps of breath are quite loud, but relatively infrequent – especially considering the many long runs he repeatedly finds himself in.
Pianist Burkard Schliessmann was just distinguished with three Silver Medals at the 2017 Global Music Awards. divineartrecords.com…