The French flautist, conductor and inspirational teacher Paul Taffanel started learning the flute from his father at the age of nine and gave his first concert aged just ten. After studying at the Paris Conservatoire – where he would later become a professor himself – he enjoyed a successful career as both soloist and orchestral player, becoming known as the outstanding flute player of his time and establishing the instrument in the mainstream of music. In addition to teaching, Taffanel was a fine opera and orchestra conductor, directing French premieres of several Wagner operas and Verdi’s Otello at the Paris Opéra. At the Societe des Concerts he championed Camille Saint-Saëns and other contemporary French composers and gave the world premiere of Verdi’s Quattro Pezzi Sacri. He also founded the Société de musique de chambre pour instruments à vent (Society of Chamber Music for Wind Instruments) and was a fluent composer for the flute and wind quintet. He suffered from a physical breakdown in 1901, perhaps caused by overwork, and died in Paris on November 22, 1908.
Elegance, expressiveness and sensitivity marked Taffanel’s artistry, and the same qualities can be found in this 3-CD set of recordings by one of Britain’s leading flute players, Kenneth Smith. Most of these works were written and performed during Paul Taffanel’s lifetime, several being written especially for him, and some appeared regularly in his own recital programmes. Having lain dormant for too long, some of these imaginative compositions are recorded for the first time revealing, to ‘modern’ ears, a rich treasury of music which typifies much of the music heard in the chamber music salons and concert halls of Paris at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. This tribute to the Taffanel’s legacy opens and concludes with some of his favourite works programmed as two recitals in a way that he himself might have presented them. Rather than trying to emulate Taffanel’s sound, the recordings aim primarily to shed more light on the influence of a remarkable musician and to introduce these interesting and often beautiful pieces to the attention of flute players of today. Kenneth Smith is accompanied on piano by the excellent Paul Rhodes, a musical partnership now almost in its twentieth year.