Dances flute CHAN20265

Shadow Dances
British Works for Flute
York Bowen (1884-1961)
Miniature Suite (1907)
Flute Sonata, Op.120 (1946)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Suite de ballet (c. 1914)
Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)
Sonatina, Op.13 (1939)
William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Flute Sonata (1948)
Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Four Pieces (1911-12)
Howard Ferguson (1908-1999)
Adam Walker (flute)
Huw Watkins (piano)
rec. 2022, Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
Chandos CHAN20265 [77]

The British seem to have caught the flute disease from the French and no one more so than the prolix York Bowen, whose works begin and end the programme. The Miniature Suite was written in 1907 for the then reigning flute virtuoso in the country, Albert Fransella. It’s an unashamed showpiece with some ripe romance in the central movement, warm and languid, and genial affectionate writing in the final movement. However, at over 16 minutes it tested my patience more than somewhat. Bowen’s Sonata followed many years later in 1946. Panglossian critics might well eulogise this work but though it was written for another great player, Gareth Morris, the material is rather thin; gently languid and evocative and with a bracing, quite exciting finale. The performance by Adam Walker and Huw Watkins is also on the slow side at over 19 minutes.

Vaughan Williams’ Suite de ballet dates from around 1914 and was edited for publication by Roy Douglas. It was probably written for the French flautist Louis Fleury. At least VW knew to keep his ideas succinct; it lasts six minutes but manages to pack quite a lot into its four movements, so if folk tunes, probably of VW’s own invention, and French dance movements (that nevertheless sound British) interest you, this modestly conceived work might do nicely, and briefly.

At least Lennox Berkeley’s crisp, clear-as-crystal Francophile lines are here to enliven the programme. His Sonatina’s refined elements and quick, communicative flair are much needed qualities. William Alwyn was a flautist himself and his Sonata was first performed in 1948 by his pupil, none other than Gareth Morris again. It’s heard here in the performing edition of Christopher Hyde-Smith, which has been edited by Philippa Davies. At just under eight minutes, it offers a touchingly reserved quality as well as a fugal finale that has plenty of vitality.

After which we have Arnold Bax’s Four Pieces, a four-movement suite extracted from his suppressed score King Kojata, premiered by Fransella and Harriet Cohen in 1916. It presents a Russian fairy tale, with a Shadow Dance, from which this Chandos disc takes its title, then The Princess Dances and the most French-orientated movement, the third, Naiad. The finale is Grotesque – that’s its title, not a description of the music. Howard Ferguson’s Three Sketches were composed over a two-decade period, between 1932 and 1952. They’re almost haiku-like, the central Andante being the standout – deftly calm.

The fact that I find British flute music largely tedious – decidedly small beer – is doubtless more a personal failing than a fault of the music itself, which is mellifluous and lyric and quietly engaging. Walker and Watkins certainly play with due appreciation of its qualities, individual and collective, except in the Bowen Sonata, where I do think they’re too indulgent. Good news to end: the recording is excellent and Lewis Foreman’s notes are exemplary.

Jonathan Woolf

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