The panpipes is one of the oldest musical instruments, reaching back as far as the beginnings of civilization. The name “Pan” came from Greek mythology, and it is also called the Romanian flute and the syrinx. In fact, throughout this 3-disc boxed set (limited to 3000 copies) the performer is listed as Simion Stanciu Syrinx – without punctuation, as though that were his last name! Panpipes can be made from reed, cane, bamboo, and even hollow animal bones, all held together by leather thongs.
Most people have heard panpipes virtuoso George Zamfir, who sometimes plays Baroque concertos such as these but is more usually heard in middle-of-the-road fare. This boxed set proclaims “The best panpipe-player” and I agree wholeheartedly after not only auditioning the CDs but watching this amazing musician in closeup on the excellent video. He never misses a note, even slightly. And such a video is harder to edit out fluffs, especially during closeups. How Stanciu achieves such perfect pitch and phrasing in such rapid passages as in Bartok’s Roumanian Dances is almost unbelievable. Even the best recorder players are not as perfect as this, and the panpipes is about as primitive and basic an instrument as one could imagine. On a par with the Japanese bamboo shakuhachi – both instruments are capable of mind-blowing musical virtuosity, even though they are just lengths of bamboo cane with no moving parts or reeds. (One of the panpipe-makers offering for sale on the Net features moveable rubber stoppers in the bottom of the reeds, allowing for easy tuning. Their instruments are about $35 U.S. each.)
Born in Roumania, Stanciu discovered the panflute at age 14. His great skills on the instrument allow him to perform classical works considered outside the natural limits of the primitive instrument. He is the only performer to play all the Baroque works in their original key. In the 20-minute Stamitz Flute Concerto in G Major which opens the video DVD, Stanciu conveys the bold dynamics of the work by stretching phrases and putting emphasis on contrasting elements in the melodies and rhythms. The few lighter works such the Boccherini Minuet and Sarasate Gypsy Airs are brimming over with gallant good spirits, but still right on as far as pitch and accuracy of notes. The longest piece on the discs is Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor which opens the second CD at 26 minutes – absolutely transporting! I think this may be my favorite version of the work.
The DVD is 4:3 aspect ratio with a PCM stereo audio track of great clarity. The venue is the Abbé de Bernay – a semi-ruined cathedral-like space with no furniture whatever, the musicians placed in the area where the altar would probably be. While it’s too bad this wasn’t recorded in surround, the tracks do produce a good feeling of the ambiance of the space via ProLogic II. The video breaks away from showing the players occasionally to concentrate on the interior architecture of the Abbey. The pairing of the DVD with the two CDs is a very sensible combination. None of the repertory is duplicated. There is a Cimarosa concerto for flute and oboe beginning the first CD, and on the DVD we see a performance of Cimarosa concerto for two flutes in G major. Also, if this were a standard double-sided DualDisc, about half of the CD program would have to be eliminated, and I’ve never seen a DVD side of a DualDisc with over an hour and one-half of live video on it.
– John Sunier