Divine Art Records have just released a 2 CD set of British works for flute and piano entitled From the British Isles featuring flautist Kenneth Smith and pianist Paul Rhodes. The cover alone will be enough to attract the interest of casual browsers but this new set contains many fine works, some by composers that are rarely recorded, all in very fine performances indeed. The recordings on this new set were made at three different venues between 1989 and 2007 and all provide excellent sound.
First we have the Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 121 by Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) . There is a lovely little flourish from the flute in the opening of the Allegro with the piano setting a dramatic contrast. Throughout, these two fine artists bring out all of Arnold’s quixotic yet dramatic flair. In the Andantino Paul Rhodes leads with a leisurely melody for piano, soon picked up by Kenneth Smith whose tone draws much feeling from Arnold’s bittersweet writing. There is some fine rhythmically varied playing in the Maestoso con molto ritmico that these two players build to fine effect with some absolutely terrific playing from Smith; a superb fluency before a brilliant coda. This is a quite irresistible performance.
The music of Granville Bantock (1868-1946) has become better known in recent years due to a number of recordings made by Hyperion Records. He is represented here by his Pagan Poem published in 1930. It is a reflective little piece that grows in animation providing many opportunities for these players to show their superb technique whilst revealing the many lovely facets of this piece.
Peter Lamb (1925-2013) had a busy career, both as a composer and music administrator, initially working for two international record companies before an appointment as Deputy Manager of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He helped to establish the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and for ten years he was Head of Music at Peter Symonds’ College in Winchester, later lecturing at the University of Southampton.
The Con moto of his Sonatina for Flute and Piano (1973) has a forward driving thrust, freely melodic in nature, with a more languid section midway. Kenneth Smith draws some really fine legato lines in the Andante , Paul Rhodes adding a breadth to the music in this particularly lovely movement. These artists work so well together. There is a fine interplay in the Con brio as this final movement rushes ahead full of fine invention.
Cyril Scott (1879-1970) is another composer who has benefited from recordings of his music . His The Ecstatic Shepherd is an intoxicating little piece for solo flute given here a finely controlled performance that reveals every little nuance of this very attractive work.
The Romanza of Kenneth Leighton’s (1929-1988) Serenade in C Major, Op. 19a (1949) opens with rippling piano phrases before being immediately joined by the flute in a melody that is fresh and beautifully flowing. This is a gorgeous, mellifluous performance. The Scherzo darts around, full of charm and life with some terrific articulation from Smith and spot on ensemble between these players. Rhodes provides some wonderfully nimble phrases. Finally we are led into the Pastorale where there is a flowing outpouring of pastoral beauty.
Next we are taken to a much earlier composer, John Ranish (1692/3-1777) whose Flute Sonata in B Minor, Op. 2, No. 3 was published in 1744. It sits very well with the other works on these discs with a lovely Adagio that has very attractive flute decorations, a nimble and lively Allegro that has a lovely lightness of texture with an irresistible melody and a terrific Giga to conclude. Beautifully played.
Richard Rodney Bennett’s (1936-2012) Summer Music was published in 1983 and opens with Summer Music: Allegro Tranquillo where we are returned to the pastoral feel of the finale of Leighton’s Serenade with more fine interplay between these artists as the attractive melody weaves its way forward. There is a lovely, gently moving Siesta: Lento e dolce to which this flautist brings a lovely warmth and Games: Vivo a rhythmically buoyant movement, full of lightness and fun, these two artists bringing fine ensemble and a sense of enjoyment, giving the feel of a live performance.
Disc 2 opens with William Matthias’ (1934-1992) Sonatina for Flute and Piano. There is a really lively Allegro that receives some absolutely terrific playing from both these artists, terrific articulation from Kenneth Smith. The contrasting Andante cantabile brings a beautifully flowing melody, very much the core of this work, with some exquisite flute passages and pianism of the utmost sensitivity. There is phenomenally accurate playing in the final Allegro Vivace with terrific phrasing as this rhythmically difficult movement hurtles ahead.
Eugene Goosens (1896-1952) is known more for his conducting than composing which is a great pity. There was a very fine 3 CD release of his orchestral works conducted by Vernon Handley on the ABC Classics label a few years ago that is worthwhile seeking out. His Persian Idylls, Op. 17: No. 1. The Breath of Ney (1918) is arranged here for flute and piano by Paul Rhodes. It brings an immediate atmosphere as the flute rises up suddenly out of the opening piano motif with some lovely, languid piano phrases as the flute weaves it way forward, Smith producing some very fine sounds.
The Moderato of Peter Lamb’s Sonata for Flute and Piano (1988) soon picks up a rhythmic pulse that alternates with the opening flowing line, beautifully realised here with terrific breath control from Kenneth Smith. The lovely, flowing Aria – Adagio brings something of a timeless feel with rhythmic variations of the theme that bring a little more drama. The Allegro is brilliantly played with superb ensemble and with a brief gentler interlude.
Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) has gained some attention through recordings of his songs and chamber music. Here his Suite for Flute and Piano (c.1935) has a gentle, beautifully shaped Allegro moderato and an Andante amabile e placido that has a lovely simplicity with these fine artists bringing fine care and sensibility, finding every little inflection. There is a beautifully sprung Allegro poco scherzando , superbly played by both, before an Adagio non troppo; quasi-improvisata that flows beautifully and freely with Smith drawing some very fine phrases and textures. The work concludes with a playfully vibrant Allegro molto – quasi presto given spot on precision and a lovely flourish to end.
Howard Blake (b.1938) will never be able to escape his fame as the composer of the song ‘Walking in the Air’ for the 1982 film The Snowman. It revealed him as a particularly fine melodist but has tended to overshadow his other compositions. His Elegy has an equally melodic nature rising up with a fine flute theme with some fine piano passages. Indeed, this is something of a melodic gem beautifully played here with this fine flautist weaving a terrific line as the piece progresses through moments of haunting beauty.
Edwin York Bowen (1888-1961) is yet another British composer who has had to rely on recordings for his posthumous reputation . This 1992 recording of his Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 120 (1946) was a premiere recording . Lovely flute arabesques gently open the Allegro non Troppo with a fine piano accompaniment. There is a forward moving melodic invention as the movement develops, not without occasional hints of Debussy. These artists give a beautifully controlled performance as the music ebbs and flows. The Andante piacevole brings some beautifully mellow sounds as the music gently flows its way forward, these players finding much variety of tone. There is some very fine precision in the fast moving Allegro con fuoco with Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes again revealing their intuitive partnership.
This is a very fine set indeed with some of the finest performances of works for flute and piano I have heard. The booklet and presentation are up to Divine Art’s usual high standards with first rate notes from Kenneth Smith and Paul Rhodes. If the repertoire appeals, do not hesitate in acquiring this fine set.
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