Wednesday 6 March 2019

Virtuosity and intimacy: Flauguissimo duo A Salon Opera

A Salon Opera - Flauguissimo Duo - Resonus
A Salon Opera - Paganini, Schubert, Molino, Sor, GLuck, Mertz, Giuliani; Flauguissimo Duo; Resonus Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 March 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An engagingly intimate programme of music not for the concert hall but the salon, combining lyricism, melody and virtuosity in a way designed for more personal listening

This delightful CD from Flauguissimo Duo (Yu-Wei Hu, flute, Johan Löfving, guitar) on Resonus Classics, A Salon Opera, takes us into the salons of 19th century Europe with a pairing of instruments perhaps not common in the concert hall but which reflects the sort of intimate music making which went on away from the concert hall. The music includes the group's own arrangements of songs by Schubert and 'The Dance of the Blessed Spirits' from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, along with music by Paganini, Francesco Molino, Fernando Sor, Johann Kaspar Mertz and Mauro Giuliani.

The guitar became surprisingly popular in the 19th century, partly because the instrument was so easy to transport and could be made quite economically, and a suprising number of composers are associated with the guitar. It wasn't so much a virtuoso instrument as a useful and practical one, suitable for all sorts of musical entertainment. And, of course, the instruments relative lack of volume made it highly suitable for salon entertainments. On this disc Johan Löfving plays a restored French guitar dating from the 1850s whilst Yu-Wei Hu plays a contemporary flute by Martin Wenner based on one from the 1790s.

Salon entertainments of the 19th century brought the melodies of the opera and classical music into the realm of the popular. On this disc we have the duos own arrangements of three Schubert songs for flute and guitar, 'Fruhlingstraum' from Winterreise, And die Nachtigall and Heidenroslein, all surprisingly effective. For many periods of his life, Schubert never owned a piano, and it was a guitar that was his constant companion, hanging in his room, and there are images of him lounging on bed playing it and with many of his songs it is possible to imagine him picking out the details on his guitar and the accompaniments work well when transferred to guitar. In these arrangements, Yu-Wei Hu discreetly ornaments the repeats of the melodies, in a manner which would be expected.

Fernando Sor was one of the great names of the guitar in the 19th century, and his Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart which uses a theme from Mozart's The Magic Flute and then subjects it to a series of striking variations which bring out the characteristics of the 19th century instrument and allow the player to demonstrate their virtuosity.

Gluck's 'Dance of the Blessed Spirits' returns us to another type of operatic transcription, and here Gluck's lovely melody is preserved on the flute with Löfving providing discreet accompaniment.

Another composer associated with the guitar is the violin virtuoso Paganini who wrote a surprising amount of guitar music, and though he never played the instruments in concerts he would do so privately and in salons. Here we have his charming Cantabile in D.

Francesco Molino was an Italian-born, Paris-based guitar virtuoso, one of a number of figures who capitalised on the instrument's popularity. His charming Nocturne II for flute (or violin) and guitar is music that would seem to have been written specifically to entertain in the salon, and the lovely 'Rondo' second movement seems to hint at operatic origins for the lively theme.

Though guitarist Johann Kaspar Mertz was Austro-Hungarian (he was born in what is now Bratislava in Slovakia, then capital of the Kingdom of Hungary), his Tarantella clearly brings out the Southern European origins of the guitar and demonstrates the way that Northern composers loved to evoke the South.

Mauro Giuliani was another Italian guitarist who settled away from Italy, in Giuliani's case in Vienna and his Grande Serenade for flute and guitar gives clear hints of the classicism which Giuliani seems to have absorbed in Vienna, he knew both Rossini and Beethoven, and he performed with Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles. His Grande Serenade moves from a traditional theme and variations, through a graceful minuet to a perky march and finally a brilliant finale.

This is a delightful disc, the duo brings out the intimate nature of the music whilst creating just the right element of bravura display which would have been necessary to this style of performance. Löfving's intelligent accompaniment complements the beautiful fluidity of Yu-Wei Hu's playing, whilst Löfving is not shy of coming forward in his own solo moments. A lyrical and evocative programme.

Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) - Cantabile in D
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Fruhlingstraum from Winterreise
Franz Schubert - An die Nachtigall
Franz Schubert - Heidenroslein
Francesco Molino (1768/75-1847) - Notturno II, Op.38
Fernando Sor (1778-1839) - Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Op.9
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) - Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice
Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) - Tarantelle, Op.13 no.6
Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) - Grande Serenade Op.82
Flauguissimo Duo (Yu-Wei Hu, flute, Johan Löfving, guitar)
Recorded in Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Herts. 11-13 September 2017

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