Paul Taffanel’s influence on the flute is a matter of received knowledge: his teaching has informed generation after generation of flute players and his own music has become standard repertoire. It is generally accepted that he influenced many composers to look afresh at the flute’s capabilities. This splendid new three-CD set shows new sides to Taffanel’s art. Kenneth Smith, that most musicianly of flute players, with his excellent partner Paul Rhodes, has selected three programmes of works associated with Taffanel. It is difficult to overstate the importance, never mind the delicious enjoyability, of this collection. Kenneth Smith’s virtuosity and glorious sound are put to the best use, and Paul Rhodes, shows himself to be an ideal chamber music partner.
The first CD begins with a stunning performance of Taffanel’s Freyschütz fantasy and includes ravishing performances of Taffanel’s arrangements of the famous Gluck Dance of the Blessed Spirits and of a Chopin nocturne, along with Reinecke’s Sonate Undine, some of Taffanel’s own sightreading pieces, the Fauré Fantaisie, the Saint-Saëns Romance and a few other small pieces.
The second CD is full of surprises, including a Suite for flute and piano by the Vicomtesse Clémence de Grandval, whose aristocratic background did not prevent her from producing a charming twenty-two minute work that should be better known. There are smaller works, equally worthy and equally forgotten, by Émile Bernard, François Borne, Charles-Edouard Lefèbvre and Louis Reynaud. The biggest surprise of this collection is an astonishing twenty-two minute Sonata by Charles-Wilfred de Bériot (1833-1914). At this point I must force myself not to digress, for de Bériot’s Sonata is a huge, powerful, romantic work. How has music like this been allowed to slip from the repertoire?
The third CD is full of more surprises, including Albert Doyen’s Poèmes grecs and romances by Alfred Bruneau, Jacques Durand and Camille Saint-Saëns. There is an excellent (and, as a rare surprise) tasteful performance of Doppler’s Fantaisie pastorale hongroise and a brilliant performance of the the Widor Suite . The disc ends with (and I am running out of superlatives) a ravishing performance of an arrangement by Taffanel of one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without words . Flute playing does not get any better than this. For me, this is the recording of the year.