Classical CD Reviews

PHILIPPE GAUBERT: “On a Clear Morning” = Fantasie; Troisieme Sonata; Trois Aquarelles; Sonata in A; Nocturne et Allegro Schezando; DEBUSSY: Syrinx – Immanuel Davis, flute/ Käthe Jarka, cello/ Timothy Lovelace, p. – MSR Classics

Gaubert was once the most famous flute player in the world, and his compositions, while not top drawer in all instances, reflect his talent.

Published on July 1, 2013

PHILIPPE GAUBERT: “On a Clear Morning” = Fantasie; Troisieme Sonata; Trois Aquarelles; Sonata in A; Nocturne et Allegro Schezando; DEBUSSY: Syrinx – Immanuel Davis, flute/ Käthe Jarka, cello/ Timothy Lovelace, p. – MSR Classics MS 1356, 59:17 [Distr. by Albany] ***1/2:

There are not many flutists who are ignorant of the name or music of Philippe Gaubert (July 1879 – 1941). He was active between the two world wars, and his accomplishments included a broad range of musical interests like conducting, composing, flute playing, and teaching. He was not prolific nor is there any evidence that he thought of himself as primarily a composer. Instead he was a dedicated workaday musician who had important contacts, was an important soloist and orchestral player, and did his level best to pull the flute into the 20th Century. Debussy, Ravel, and Franck were all influences and in some cases friends, and his own music, while not especially innovative or striking, reflects these origins. At the height of his career he was considered the finest flutist in the world, and did yeoman’s work as music director of the Paris Opera.

The pieces on this disc give some selection of his flute music, all of it engaging, some of it rapturous, and never less than enticing. The opening Fantasie pretty much sets the stage for what is to come, and his Troisieme Sonata could have been stolen from Ravel, the classical structure giving way only intermittently to the flurries and rapid note harmonies that we find in Debussy. The intriguing Trois Aquarelles adds a cello that gives considerable weight to the music, though Gaubert is certainly expert at keeping the flute and strings in check as far as balance goes. The most Debussian piece for me is the melodically wandering Sonata in A, showing the flute is splendid isolation from the harmonic meandering of the piano until bringing them together in the call-and-response activities of the last movement. The “fluffiest” piece here, and the one that sound most to me as if it was designed for the parlor or as a showoff work, is the Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando which meets all goals with aplomb.

Lastly—and can any flutist resist it—Debussy’s Syrinx, written initially without bar lines and breath marks, and seldom has such a short work—generally under three minutes—had such an impact. It was also the first such solo composition for the modern Böhm flute, perfected in 1847.

Immanuel Davis and Timothy Lovelace have chosen to use French-style period instruments for this recording, and it is noticeable. The Louis Lot flute from around 1865 has a lighter and more delicate sound to it, though in the higher registers is almost has to be reined in because of the ability to sound shrill if left uncontrolled—Davis has no such shortcoming. But I really think that the impressionistic textures of the piano writing find their greatest contrast in the Erard piano that Mr. Lovelace uses.

The sound is a little diffuse in places, though I can’t imagine that these instruments were easy to capture—winds never are, and period instruments particularly can cause new problems. Generally speaking I found the timbres quite alluring and both players perform with an enriching sense of stylistic fidelity.

—Steven Ritter




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