DEVIENNE: Flute Concertos, Vol. I = Flute Concerto No. 1 in D Major; Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major; Flute Concerto No. 3 in G Major; Flute Concerto No. 4 in G Major – Patrick Gallois, flute/ Swedish Chamber Orchestra – Naxos 8.573230, 66:42 (11/4/14) ****:
Francois Devienne (1759-1803) survives in the annals of music as a significant contributor to wind music in the latter eighteenth century. A gifted bassoon and flute player, he joined the Theatre Feydeau in Paris and later the Free School of Music of the National Guard which became in 1795 the Paris Conservatory. Devienne performed his own Flute Concerto No. 1 in 1782 for the so-called Concert Spirituel, which likely represented a Freemason organization. Devienne composed thirteen flute concertos over a period 1782-1794, but the last of these suffer structural deficiencies attributable to the mental breakdown Devienne experienced that drove him to Charenton, an asylum, where he died 9 September 1803.
The D Major Concerto No. 1 proves affectionately conventional, offering runs, sustained high notes, trills, glissandi, and various marks of the true virtuoso on his instrument. The energetic melodic lines bear the influence of Haydn and Mozart, or at least, their own predecessors in the Bach sons. Often, Gallois must deliver an extended melodic line while maintaining daunting breath control. Commentator Allan Badley mentions the concertos of St. Georges as a decided influence, although the rocket figures in the strings often resound of Stamitz.
The Concerto No. 2 in D dates from 1783, and its affinity for the hunt seems granted from the work for French horns. The leisurely and suave runs Gallois executes testify to his training under the miraculous Jean-Pierre Rampal. Much of the melodic tissue and sequence of themes will remind auditors of the middle two Mozart Horn Concertos, but without that magic the Austrian master possesses. Still, the facility of the scoring proves captivating, especially late in movement one Allegro, when the low strings provide a tripping or serpentine figure to the flute’s aerial top line. The dark-hued Adagio at first echoes Bach’s D Minor Klavier Concerto, but the melodic shape moves more into the realm of the Empfindsamkeit school. The addition of the solo cello and viola into the mix adds another affective dimension before the perky Rondo: Allegretto dispels any of the remaining gloom.
The Concerto No. 3 in G Major (1784) never achieved the popularity of the first two efforts. The opening Allegro certainly makes its affinity for the German taste evident, the rockets and the periodic phrasing akin to music by Stamitz and Richter. The martial periods of the writing dramatically contrast with the soaring and lithe flute ariosi, the parts seamlessly constructed. The Romance begins with notes “from” Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but it soon meanders into sunny glades in a galant style. The upbeat Rondo: Allegretto variation movement enjoys some lovely definition between Gallois, strings – do I detect a moment of col legno? – and horns, courtesy of Sean Lewis (20-24 May 2013).
The Concerto No. 4 in G has only speculation for its exact date of composition in the 1780s. The full-blooded tutti testifies to a strong technique in orchestration and dynamic colors. Gallois could sell the entire album on the basis of his suave tessitura in this concerto alone. His scalar runs lift us to the “piccolo” register of the flute with disarming fluency. It seems that if Mozart denigrated the flute as a means of musical expression, Devienne took up the challenge to demonstrate its lyrical capabilities. A brief but charming Romance in a Gluck style leads us to the witty Rondo: Moderato whose texture quickly swells to Haydn proportions. A wicked melisma or two tax Gallois’ lungs but to no avail: he persists in making beautiful and elegant sounds in favor of a composer who certainly warrants our attention within his limited circle.