Musikalische Perlen
20th Century Works for Flute and Harp
Les Connivences Sonores
rec. 2021, Erlöserkirche zu Lüdenscheid, Germany
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview

In the foreword to this issue, Jean Renault writes: “The combination of flute and harp has produced a remarkable repertoire—an open and thus promising and fruitful collection of works, without need for an instrumental connection, even though it remains a common thread as it helped, over time, to create a number of creative avenues from a wide variety of traditions. This is the background for our first album, in which we take a stroll through the garden of the past century. Only a few of the notable works of that period have been recorded to date, and not in systematic fashion. To revitalize these works on their own as well as in revealing context with each other, does justice to a multi-faceted modernity.”

The flute and the harp are two of the oldest music instruments in the history of mankind. Harps have been depicted on Sumerian and Egyptian paintings from 3000 BC, and a flute made of a mammoth bone, found in the German alps, is supposed to be between 30 000 and 37 000 years old. Probably the two instruments have been played together for at least 5000 years. But how many original compositions for this combination of instruments are well-known? Mozart’s concerto K 299 is the obvious answer, but it also includes an orchestra. Carl Nielsen’s idyllic Tågen letter (The Fog is Lifting) is however a popular piece, at least in Scandinavia. It is from the incidental music to Helge Rode’s patriotic play Moderen (The Mother), premiered in 1921. But otherwise, when we hear flute and harp music, it is transcriptions or arrangements of various originals, and flautist Odile Renault and harpist Élodie Reibaud’s ambition to dig up forgotten works for the combination is utterly praiseworthy.

They have started with five composers active during the 20th century. The oldest is Frenchman Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, whose Sonatine is almost contemporaneous with Nielsen’s Tågen letter, mentioned above. Inghelbrecht is better-known as conductor. He founded the Orchestre National de France in 1934. He was the permanent conductor of the Orchestre Pasdeloup and conducted the orchestras of the Opéra Comique, the Swedish Ballet and the Algiers Opera. He was also a close friend of Claude Debussy, and his complete recordings of the latter’s symphonic works were epoch-making.

His own compositions were also influenced by Debussy’s impressionism.

The first movement is also the longest, and it begins softly and melodiously, quite an idyll in fact. Then he seasons the brew with some harsh chords that temporarily conceal the sun. But soon the clouds are dispersed, and the movement concludes in perfect harmony. The sicilienne is also primarily sunny but in the final Rondes he introduces more vigour and rhythmical alertness. A nice piece that is over in eleven minutes.

New York born Lowell Liebermann has composed several works for flute, of which the sonata for flute and piano is his most recorded composition. In his recorded output is also a concerto for flute, harp and orchestra, a piccolo concerto and a flute concerto, all of them recorded by James Galway. His music is often polytonal, and this sonata from 1996 is no exception. It is in one continuous movement, beginning with a soft Grave and then gradually developing to an Allegro with some virtuoso cantilenas and then back to a slower finale. Even though the polytonality may be jarring to some ears, the sonata is basically contemplative.

With Israeli composer and conductor Ami Maayani we move to the Middle Eastern musical sphere. Her two Arabesques, the first for solo harp and the second, heard here, “are based on the Arabic maqam. Maqamat are melodic modes used in traditionally improvised Middle Eastern music. Each maqam is associated with a colour or ‘soul’. Maayani used the traditional rhythmic form, with its 10/8 (samai thaqil) metre divided into 3-2-2-3, in these two Arabesques.” The title implies decorative ornaments, and there is indeed virtuosity of the highest order here from the flautist, but also quite dramatic confrontations with the harp. A slow opening, a fast intense middle section and a repetitive Modéré as conclusion. A fascinating tour de force with genuine orientalism.  

Ned Rorem, born to Norwegian parents, was the doyen among American composers when he passed away on 18 November 2022 at age 99. He is best known for his more than 500 songs, and he is quoted in the liner notes as saying: “I conceive all music vocally. Whatever my music is written for—tuba, tambourine or tubular bells—it is always the singer in me crying to get out.” In Book of Hours the eight parts “correspond with the canonical hours that divided the day into prayers: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.” There are references to Gregorian chant and in the Matins as well as the Compline we hear eleven chimes played by the harp. Everything hangs together, and the Compline is modelled after the Matins but a full tone lower and written in inversion. Another fascinating piece, miniaturized in the briefness of the eight movements but grand in the overall layout.

Miniaturized are also the three fragments by Lutoslawski, which derive from music he wrote in the early 1950s for the Polish Radio Theatre, most of which is lost. These three pieces, all of them with a duration of well under two minutes, are simple and unassuming but with a distinct charm. In the liner notes Odile Renault and Élodie Reibaud draw parallels with Debussy’s piece Syrinx for solo flute, which seems plausible. The first fragment, Magia, refers to female magicians, witches, maybe synonymous with Le villi, in Puccini’s first stage work. The second – and obviously also the third – are from Ulysses in Ithaca, a radio drama by Jan Parandowski. The third is a vigorous and energetic conclusion to this delectable recital of music off the beaten track. I really hope that it will attract listeners with an open mind and not only flute and/or harp enthusiasts, but that flautists and harpists will adopt some of these works and add them to their concert repertoire and thus keep them alive.

Oh, I forgot: the playing is also delectable. If it hadn’t been, I would not have expatiated on this issue at such length.

Göran Forsling

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Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht (1880 – 1965)
Sonatine für Flöte und Harfe Op. 56 (1919):
1. Mov. 1: Préamble [4:42]
2. Mov. 2: Sicilienne [3:10]
3. Mov. 3: Rondes [2:47]
Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961)
Sonata Op. 56 (1996):
4. Grave – Allegro [13:37]
Ami Maayani (1936 – 2019)
Arabesque No. 2 für Flöte und Harfe (1973):
5. Lent – Animé – Modéré [8:59]
Ned Rorem (1923 – 2022)
Book of Hours (1975):
6. I. Matins, Nocturne [1:30]
7. II. Lauds, Sunrise [2:52]
8. III. Prime, 6 A.M. [1:08]
9. IV. Terce, Mid-morning [3:47]
10. V. Sext, Noon [2:21]
11. VI. None, Mid-afternoon [2:33]
12. VII. Vespers, Evensong [0:42]
13. VIII. Compline, Nightfall [1:26]
Witold Lutoslawski (1913 – 1994)
3 Fragmente für Flöte und Harfe (1953)
14. Magia [1:24]
15. Odys na Itace, Andante con moto [1:25]
16. Odys na Itace, Presto [1:07]