American Chamber Music with Flute

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

American Chamber Music with Flute

  • Threnody I (Igor Stravinsky, in memoriam)
  • Threnody II (Beatrice Cunningham, in memoriam)
  • Vocalise
  • Duo
  • Sarabande and Rigaudon
  • (3) Pieces
  • At dusk
  • Nocturne and Scherzo

This is a most attractive release in every way. It was an ingenious idea to couple Copland's works involving the flute with those by the Boston classi- cist, Arthur Foote. In these columns in July (page 238) AW urged that ''more Foote on disc would not come amiss''. Here it is! As a young man Foote went to the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876 after gaining the first MA in music to be given by an American university, Harvard, where he studied with John Knowles Paine. Foote's music is lyrical and polished, well aware of Bach, Mendelssohn and Brahms with a daring touch of Faure in the late works written just as Copland was starting to compose. It is also rewarding to play.
Fenwick Smith makes a mellow sound, with quite a bit of vibrato, and he plays a Powell instrument he made himself when he worked for the company. This is the languid flute of Debussy and it brings a special quality to both Foote and Copland. This is not to imply that Smith lacks range. The contrasted manners of Foote's Three pieces—''Aubade Villageoisie'', ''Melodie'' and ''Pastorale''—are well projected and so are the moods of the other sets of pieces with various instrumental accompaniments.
The Copland items, neatly alternating with Foote to make a well-planned recital, include the two late Threnodies coming into the British catalogue for the first time. There is something particularly moving about Copland's memorial tribute to Stravinsky, beautifully imagined for flute and string trio. The early Vocalise makes a good flute and piano piece—not many composers at that stage in the twentieth century could put the stamp of their own personalities on the merest rising and falling scales.
The largest piece is Copland's Duo, written in memory of William Kincaid in 1971, and his last substantial chamber work, although based on much earlier sketches. There are two other current recordings: Michael Cox on Kingdom/Conifer, and Martin-Ulrich Senn for Thorofon Capella/Koch International but the advantage with Smith's performance is the American context. His style is sympathetic, too, but the recorded balance is not flawless and the piano sound is rather dull. At the climax of the second movement, Poetic, somewhat mournful, there is a split note in the piano left hand which ought to have been retaken. The high spirits of the last movement are characterized by an opening flute melody which has more than a suggestion of the final fugue in Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra: a fitting reminder of the connections between the two composers. Smith and Randall Hodgkinson, neat enough in the fast playing, catch the autumnal nostalgia of this late Copland with real affection.'

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