Friday 5 July 2013

A beautifully played and produced disc of works for flute and piano on a new release from Diversions Records featuring Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes

Claude-Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) is considered the founder of the French Flute School that became dominant in mid-20th century throughout Europe and America. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Louis Dorus (1812-96), who introduced the Boehm flute there, graduating in 1860. For the next thirty years he pursued a brilliant career as a soloist and as an orchestral player, as one of a group of French musicians who made strenuous efforts to develop a national musical style. Taffanel became Professor of Flute at the Conservatoire in 1883 and revised the institute's repertoire and teaching methods, reintroducing works by foreign composers and by those of earlier generations, including Bach. Taffanel's pupils learned to play in a new, smoother style that included a light and carefully-modulated vibrato.

Flute Vocalise, a new release from Diversions Records is a tribute to Paul Taffanel devoted to his legacy. Kenneth Smith (flute) and Paul Rhodes (piano)  perform works that either have a connection with Taffanel or that reflect the seamless vocal line that his style of flute playing gave.

Kenneth Smith is now firmly established as one of Britain’s leading flute players featuring on countless recordings from the symphonic and operatic repertoire with the Philharmonia and other leading Symphony Orchestras. A steadily increasing solo discography includes Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp with the Philharmonia under Sinopoli for Deutsche Grammophon, Vivaldi concertos with the London Musici and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 with Maurice André and the Philharmonia under Muti for EMI. His long established partnership with the pianist Paul Rhodes has already resulted in seven albums of music for flute and piano.
Paul Rhodes read music at Edinburgh University where he studied composition with Kenneth Leighton. He continued his piano studies later with Marjorie Hazlehurst at the Birmingham Conservatoire and with Hamish Milne in London. Master-classes with Louis Kentner, Vlado Perlemuter and Mitsuko Uchida also had a decisive influence on his playing. Paul divides his time between performing, teaching and examining. Rhodes has featured in numerous recordings and broadcasts with Kenneth Smith in a musical partnership that has now reached its twentieth year.

Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) was commissioned by Taffanel to write her Concertino, Op.107 for the 1902 Paris Conservatoire Concours, the first female composer to provide such a work. There is some beautiful legato playing from Kenneth Smith. What a lovely sound he draws from his flute finely accompanied by Paul Rhodes. This piece is not only highly attractive but presents the player with a range of demands including some exhilaratingly fast passages complete with a cadenza.

Fryderyk Chopin’s (1810-1849) Variations on a Theme by Rossini is an early work believed to have been written around 1824. After a staccato presentation of Rossini’s theme the music develops through an attractive series of variations. As the piece progresses it gets increasingly more difficult for the flautist. This is not a particularly great piece by the 14 year old composer, but certainly worth hearing, particularly as finely played as it is here.

Apparently Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) and Taffanel often performed together.  Saint-Saëns Le Cygne (The Swan) was added by Taffanel  to a collection of music that he considered would suit the flute, published in 1888. Here we have a beautifully played arrangement, by Kenneth Smith, of The Swan

The music of Benjamin Godard (1849-1895) has received a revival through Naxos’ recording of his Concerto No.2 for Violin and Orchestra, Concerto Romantique for Violin and Orchestra and Scenes Poétiques for Orchestra. His Suite de Trois Morceaux, Op.116 (1890) was written for flute and orchestra or flute and piano as performed here. There is a gentle yet flowing allegretto finely played, an Idylle where Kenneth Smith’s lovely flute tone brings a lovely quality to the music and a light hearted Valse that allows this flautist many opportunities to display his technique and panache. There is some great playing from these artists with a superb virtuoso end.

Who doesn’t know Jules Massenet’s 1842-1912) Meditation from Thaïs. This was Massenet’s most popular opera and was first performed at the Opéra Garnier in Paris on 16 March 1894 conducted by Paul Taffanel who had been appointed conductor of the Paris Opera four years previously. Smith and Rhodes bring a lovely warmth to this well known yet still beautiful piece.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote his Petite Suite for piano duet but it was later orchestrated by the composer, organist and conductor, Henri Busser who, at the request of Paul Taffanel,  had also written a piece for the Conservatoire examinations in 1908. It was from Busser’s orchestral version that Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes arranged En Bateau, from the Petite Suite, for flute and piano. This is a lovely performance with a sparkling flute part and attractive playing from both performers.

The name Giulio Briccialdi (1818-1881) is not a name that will be very well known to most people yet the tune that appears in his Il Carnivale di Venezia, Op.77 is very well known. There is a flourishing opening for flute and piano before the very well known tune arrives. This piece is great fun with some spectacularly fine playing form Kenneth Smith.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) knew when he had a winning tune arranging his Vocalise, O.34 No.14, originally for soprano and piano, for soprano and orchestra as well as orchestra alone. Since then there have been numerous arrangements for a variety of instruments. Kenneth Smith has made this arrangement for flute and piano which works exceedingly well. What we lose in richer melody is made up by Smith’s beautiful flute phrases and Rhodes’ idiomatic piano part.

Paul Taffanel was friend, mentor and teacher to Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) whose Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando was played by the composer and Taffanel before students in his class. Present was a certain young student, Marcel Moyse, whom Kenneth Smith later had the privilege of studying this piece with. A lovely languid Nocturne, sensuously played by Kenneth Smith with some fine passages from Paul Rhodes, precedes an Allegro Scherzando with a fluttering opening and a lovely broad melody before a brilliant coda.

Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) wrote his Berceuse, Op.16 for violin, in which form it was premiered in 1880. This arrangement for flute and piano of this perfectly formed piece receives a performance of such care and sensitivity in this seemingly simple little work.

The longest piece on this disc is François Borne’s (1840-1920) Fantaisie Brillante sur ‘Carmen’. Bizet’s opera was a favourite of Taffanel who wrote five fantasies of his own. The work opens with the piano before the flute enters in this Fantaisie built on several themes from Bizet’s Carmen. Occasionally there are some striking piano parts and the opportunity to show some lovely flute textures in this simply brilliant performance.

These pieces may be somewhat slight but there is much to enjoy on this beautifully played and produced disc.

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