20th Century French Flute Concertos

The four works gathered here belong to what could be described as the secret garden of twentieth-century French music. They remind one that, next to the handful of composers of the post-Debussy-Fauré generation that have found a secure place in posterity, such as Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel, Francis Poulenc, and Olivier Messiaen, there were many others whose names may be less familiar, but who have also made outstanding contributions to the music of their time. Written over fewer than fifty years, the four works also testify to the pioneering role played by twentieth-century French musicians in reviving and promoting the flute as a solo instrument. Vincent Giroud



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The flute repertoire underwent thrilling development in mid-century France, but while Ravel and Poulenc became establishment stalwarts many other highly accomplished composers remain hidden in the shadows. American flautist-conductor Ransom Wilson's latest addition to his on-going solo series for Nimbus features some of these lesser-known figures, with a focus on concertos.

Nadia Boulanger protege Jean Frangaix's Impromptu for flute and strings (1983) is an unashamedly melodic romp stuffed full of spiralling motifs that Wilson performs with an enviable lightness. The close miking means some key slapping is heard (for example in the Scherzando) but this only adds to the sense of intimacy.

Jean Rivier's Concerto for flute and strings andJean-Michel Damase's Serenade, both written in 1956 for Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922-2000), plumb greater emotional depths, yet the mishmash of styles, particularly in the Serenade, requires flexibility; Wilson is fleet-tongued throughout. Jacques Ibert's Concerto (1933) is better known, and Wilson's recording holds its own against the likes of Emmanuel Pahud(EMI,2003).

Incidentally this disc would surely have been an ideal opportunity to showcase the featured composers' colleague Cecile Chaminade - her Concertino would have fitted neatly in to this programme. Claire Jackson BBC Music Magazine

This is a surprisingly charming disc of French 20th-century flute concerti played by flautist Ransom Wilson, with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Perry So. The program is bookended by two of the most famous French composers of the last century, Jean Françaix and Jacques Ibert.  In between we have works by two composers I was not familiar with, Jean Rivier (1896-1987), a member of the “Triton Group” in the 1930s, and Jean-Michel Damase (1928-2013), who studied piano with Alfred Cortot before moving on to composition, winning the politically-influenced Prix de Rome in 1947.

Françaix’s Impromptu for Flute & Strings is a lightweight work, yet a well-written one which gives the impression that the flute is dancing above the strings for the entirety of its duration. Slight though it is, it does include a skittering solo cadenza near the end of the fast third movement, unexpectedly closing out with an “Andante poetico” movement.

The Rivier concerto is a considerably meatier piece with “rotating” chromatics underlying its harmonic base, yet exudes charm in its own way. At 1:20 into the first movement, we suddenly shift gears from the quite serious introduction to a perky theme with skittering strings complementing the flute. Wilson plays all of this with a lovely tone and fine technique if perhaps not much range of dynamics or inflections. After a quite serious “Lento sensibile,” we end with a bright, perky “Molto vivace” full of bouncing syncopations.

Damase’s Sérénade for Flute & Strings, written in 1956 (the same year as the Rivier concerto), also starts out in a somewhat serious vein with the violas and cellos playing a sort of irregular ostinato rhythm at a medium tempo under the flute, after which the tempo doubles and we hear pizzicato strings behind the now-quite-active flute line. In the second movement, however, one’s interest wanes as the music becomes sappy, using conventional harmonies and themes. Damase redeems himself somewhat in the third movement, where the harmonies become more interesting and the flute’s top lines are rather more inventive.

Ibert’s flute concerto is both peppy and modernistic at the same time, sort of a cousin to Shostakovich’s very popular piano concerti. The flute line remains melodic and basically tonal above an orchestral scoring that includes quite a few altered chord positions, which keep the listener on his or her toes. Wilson sounds particularly good in this piece and the BBC Concert Orchestra also plays with a great deal of brio. This cat-and-mouse game with harmony, allied to a somewhat vigorous rhythmic base, continues throughout the concerto. In all, then, a well-played program. Art Music

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