“The Art of the Flute” = Music of MOZART, KUHLAU, FRANCAIX, ST.-SAENS, POULENC – Wolfgang & Matthias Schulz, flutes, with clar. & piano – Naxos

by | Mar 14, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

“The Art of the Flute” = MOZART: Sonata in D Major, K. 448 (arr. for two flutes and piano by Elisabeth Weinzierl and Edmund Wächter); FRIEDRICH KUHLAU: Grand Trio in G Major for two flutes and piano, Op. 119; JEAN FRANCAIX: Le Colloque des deux perruches, for flute and alto flute; SAINT-SAËNS: Tarentelle for flute, clarinet, and piano, Op. 6; POULENC: Sonata for flute and piano – Wolfgang Schulz, flute and alto flute/ Matthias Schulz, flute / Carl Schmidl, clarinet/ Madoka Inui, p. – Naxos 8.570309, 69:24 ***1/2:
Naxos’ The Art of. . . chamber music series is a decent one, with reliable personnel drawn mostly from the first chairs of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and featuring works chosen to highlight one member or other of a family of instruments. This is the fifth installment, earlier releases showcasing the clarinet, horn, cello, and viola. But I have a bone to pick with Naxos over the current installment, namely the inclusion of Mozart’s brilliant Sonata for Two Pianos, K. 448, in an arrangement for two flutes and piano. Even if this were a particularly successful arrangement, there would still be rich irony in the fact that Mozart solemnly confessed his disdain for the flute.
And I guess this is a successful arrangement from the standpoint of flutists, who will rightly want to hear it. But for my money, the dulcet sound of the flutes takes the brightly shining edge off of Mozart’s scintillating music. The composer wrote the piece for performance by himself and his obviously gifted student Josepha von Auernhammer of Vienna. It conjures up images reminiscent of the film Amadeus, with the seemingly possessed Wolfgang flying over the keyboard. This arrangement just makes me want to get my recording by pianists Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu (on Sony) down off the shelf.
That said, the rest of the program is much more listenable—and useful in that it presents two attractive rarities by Kuhlau and Francaix. Friedrich Kuhlau, a German who lived and worked in Copenhagen, is probably best known today as the author of very charming sonatinas that give young pianists among their first taste of good, idiomatic music written for their instrument. As Royal Chamber Musician for the Court of Copenhagen, Kuhlau penned quite a number of works for flute and piano, including the Trio Op. 119, which like all Biedermeier creations straddles the fence between the Classical and early Romantic eras. Like the sonatinas, it has a sunny tunefulness that recalls Hummel.
The other rarity is Colloque des deux perruches (Dialogue of Two Parrots). The idea of scoring it for flute and alto flute is minor genius since doing so immediately gives our two parrots distinctive voice characteristics that provide variety and resonance throughout the six short sections. Like most of Francaix’s music, it’s unassumingly witty and urbane.
Far more familiar is the Flute Sonata by Francaix’s countryman Francis Poulenc, although it’s always welcome in a fine performance such as we have here. The opening movement is all cool French insouciance, the Cantilena a long-breathed, pensive song that sounds almost too serious for Poulenc. He makes amends in the jaunty bustling Presto giocoso finale.
With so much good chamber music for flutes around, I wish the performers had chosen something other than the opening Mozart arrangement. But the performances are all smart and attractive, the three numbers by French composers played with a proper French accent, despite the fact that the performers hail from Vienna.
Though the program was recorded in a studio, it has a pleasing resonance. But it is a trifle low-level, so give the volume a boost for optimum enjoyment.
—Lee Passarella

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