Friday 10 November 2023

Flute explorations: lesser-known Schubert, early Beethoven and the father of Swedish music

Exploration: Schubert, Blahetka, Beethoven, Borne; Noémi Győri, Suzana Bartal; HUNGARATON
Exploration: Schubert, Blahetka, Beethoven, Borne; Noémi Győri, Suzana Bartal; HUNGOROTON
To the Northern Star: Johan Helmich Roman; Flauguissimo and friends; RESONUS
Reviewed 7 November 2023

Two imaginatively different approaches to expanding the flute repertoire. From Hungary comes a disc that explores lesser known Beethoven and Schubert alongside a rarity and familiar showpiece, whilst from the UK comes a disc exploring an 18th-century London-trained Swedish composer writing music of great elegance

The flute was a popular instrument in the 18th and 19th centuries with plenty of fine players and a wide array of repertoire, much of it however aimed at the domestic market. What flute players lack are the pieces of the stature of, say, Mozart and Brahms' works for clarinet. This means that players need to be a bit more creative, to explore the highways and byways.

To the Northern Star: Johan Helmich Roman; Flaugissimo and friends; RESONUS
Two discs came to my attention this year, both exploring repertoire that is not always obvious. On Exploration from Hungoroton, flautist Noémi Győri and pianist Suzana Bartal present pieces by Beethoven and Schubert alongside works by Leopoldine Blahetka and Francois Borne. Whilst To the Northern Star on Resonus Classics from duo Flauguissimo (Yu-Wei Hu flute, Johan Löfving theorbo & baroque guitar) and friends (Magdalena Loth-Hill violin, Emily Atkinson soprano, Henrik Persson viola da gamba) explores the chamber music of the 18th-century Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman.

Győri and Bartal's disc is deliberately playful and light, involving the variation form in all its guises. They begin with Schubert's Introduction and Variations on 'Trockne Blumen' from Die schöne Müllerin, op. posth. 160, D. 802, written in 1824 for a flute-playing friend, Ferdinand Bogner,  a professor at the Vienna conservatory and back in 1815 the two had played together in the amateur orchestra for which Schubert had composed his second, third, fourth and fifth symphonies. They remained close friends, and in the 1820s were members of the same musical and social circle. Perhaps most importantly Bogner had arranged performances of Schubert's songs. The piece begins all sober and serious, intent like the original song, but then Schubert lets himself loose, and great fun is had all round.

Leopoldine Blahetka was an Austrian pianist and composer whose teachers included Czerny, Moscheles and Kalkbrenner. It takes a salon-like delight in a series of variations where display the performers' talent but also Blahetka's capacity for fun. The other lesser known name is the French flute player and composer, with his Carmen fantasy the really does seem to have its tongue firmly in its cheek, to delightful effect. Beethoven's seven-movement Serenade was originally written in 1801 for flute, violin and viola, but in 1803, Franz Xaver Kleinheinz arranged the serenade for flute (or violin) and piano, an arrangement checked and authorised by Beethoven. It still has the early feel, you might not even think it was Beethoven, but it is a work of great charm.

Sensibly Győri and Bartal do not try to make us believe we are listening to intense, serious music, their performances have a light playfulness to them, and they take clear delight in the variation form whilst Győri proves herself to be terrific flautist.

Johan Helmich Roman is often known as the 'Father of Swedish music', starting his career in 1711 as a violinist and oboist at the Royal Chapel, where he studied and played alongside Johann Jacob Bach, JS Bach's brother and a skilful oboist. In 1716 Roman came to London to study, being employed as a violinist at the King's Theatre and evidently having lessons from Handel and Pepusch. Roman finally, and reluctantly, left London in 1721 to serve the newly crowned Swedish royal couple of King Frederick I and Roman’s main patron Queen Ulrica Eleonora, to whom he dedicated the publication of twelve sonatas for flute and basso continuo in 1727.

Flauguissimo perform three of the flute sonatas, nos. 4, 8 and 10, on flute, theorbo and gamba. Alongside these are arias from two cantatas, both of which feature the flute strongly. Cantata in einer Taffel-Music (Cantata of Table-Music) sets a German text glorifying the Swedish royal couple and we hear the charming aria ‘Süße Zeiten eilet nicht’, whilst the cantata Bröllops Music was written for an aristocratic wedding and sets a Swedish text. We hear the aria, ‘I eder bästa vår'. Finally there is a trio sonata originally for two violins and here played with flute and violin.

This is charming, civilised music that is often full of imagination. Soprano Emily Atkinson, flautist Yu-Wei Hu, and violinist Magdalena Loth-Hill bring love and style to the arias so that you rather wish to hear the full cantatas. Roman's sonatas are elegant and always beautifully crafted, and each one contains plenty to interest, though perhaps this is a disc to dip into rather than listen to at one setting.

But certainly, the performers clearly love this music; their engagement and sense of style really brings the music to life.

Franz Schubert (1797–1828)- Introduction and Variations on 'Trockne Blumen' from Die schöne Müllerin, op. posth. 160, D. 802
Leopoldine Blahetka (1809–1885) - Variations for Flute and Piano, op. 39
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) - Serenade in D major, op. 41
François Borne (1840–1920) - Fantaisie brillante on Bizet’s Carmen
Noémi Győri (flute)
Suzana Bartal (piano)
Recorded on 4-7 March, 2023 at Rottenbiller Studio
HUNGARATON HCD 32882 1CD [68:54]

To the Northern Star
Johan Helmich Roman (1694–1758) - Sonata No. 4 for flute and basso continuo in G major BeRI204
Johan Helmich Roman - Sonata No. 10 for flute and basso continuo in E minor BeRI210
Johan Helmich Roman - 'Süße Zeiten eilet nicht' from Cantata in einer Taffel-Music, HRV 601
Johan Helmich Roman - Sonata No. 1 for flute and basso continuo in A major BeRI208
Johan Helmich Roman - 'I eder bästa vår' from Bröllops Music, HRV 600
Johan Helmich Roman - Trio Sonata No. 3 in E minor, BeRI 115
Flauguissimo (Yu-Wei Hu flute, Johan Löfving theorbo & baroque guitar)
Magdalena Loth-Hill violin
Emily Atkinson soprano
Henrik Persson viola da gamba
Recorded in Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, 22–24 November 2021

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