20th Century Music for Flute and Guitar
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)
Sonatina for Flute and Guitar, Op. 205 (1965)
Töru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
Toward the Sea, for alto flute and guitar (1981)
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56 (1915),
[arr. Arthur Levering]
Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)
L’Aube enchantée sur le Raga ‘Todi’ (1976),
[arr. Roberto Aussel and Pierre-André Valade]
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Histoire du Tango, for flute and guitar (1986)
Britta Jacobs (flute, alto flute)
Irene Kalisvaart (guitar)
rec. 2021, Saarbrücken, Germany
Naxos 8.551453 [61]

Of the five works played in this entertaining and engaging programme, three were originally written for flute and guitar (those by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Takemitsu and Piazzolla), while the other two are arrangements of works written for other instruments/combinations of instruments. Flute and guitar make an attractive and intimate pairing, as was widely recognised in the flowering of interest in the guitar during the first half of the Nineteenth Century – as, for example, in works such the Fantaisie pour Flûte et Guitare, Op. 337 (1831) by Ferdinando Carulli, the Sonata pour Flûte and Guitarre, Op. 103 (c.1812) by Leonhard von Call or the Serenata, Op. 127 (c.1830) by Mauro Giuliani. While it may not be so fashionable nowadays, continued interest in this instrumental pairing clearly exists amongst composers, performers and audiences alike. The booklet notes accompanying this disc (by the composer and guitarist, Dimitrios Yfantis) begin by celebrating the partnership of flute and guitar in what is almost a prose poem – I quote from the English translation by Peter Zaenker: – “Two instruments blossom in a chamber music duet: the clarity of the flute and the playfulness of the guitar, the delicate and the explosive, the virtuosic and the intimate combine to form a unity … two instruments combine to create one sound”. These are not quite the terms I would use, but I share the writer’s enthusiasm for the duo of flute and guitar.

The music on this disc illustrates the range and variety of which the duo of flute and guitar is capable in the right hands, from the neo-classical (more or less) idiom of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonatina to the nature mysticism of Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea, from the folk-inspired rhythms in Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances to the Indian ecstasy of Shankar’s L’Aube enchantée and the Argentinian Tango. Whatever the idiom or mood, flautist Britta Jacobs and guitarist Irene Kalisvaart prove to be convincing interpreters. Jacobs has been principal flautist of the SWR Radio Orchestra and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslauten as well as an active career as a guest soloist and teacher in several European and Asian countries. Irene Kalisvaart has also been a guest soloist in a variety of settings and garnered a good number of awards and prizes. Since 2016 she has taught at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne. Her website tells the reader that “her open approach to music-making spans the spectrum from baroque arrangements, new music, and even forays into techno and bluegrass”.

I have been unable to discover exactly when Jacobs and Kalisvaart began to work together. The closest I have got to doing so is a statement on the flautist’s website: “the duo Jacobs Kalisvaart has been onstage for many years”. I had already come to some such realisation, given the precision of their musical interaction across this disc. All of their interpretations are obviously the result of a good deal of shared thought, though there is never the sense of something so well-prepared and thoroughly rehearsed that it loses all feelings of new life and spontaneity. That each of the musicians has an absolute mastery of her instrument is unmistakeably clear.

Though himself primarily a pianist, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote well over a hundred works for the guitar – alone or with other instruments – becoming fascinated by the guitar after hearing, meeting and corresponding for many years with Segovia. His Sonatina was written in the summer of 1965 for the duo of flautist Werner Tripp and guitarist Konrad Ragassnig. This excellent performance by Jacobs and Kalisvaart feels very much like a musical conversation, which is fitting since the composer doesn’t subordinate one instrument to the other for more than a few bars at a time. The moods of the piece are varied, moving between a strong sense of joy and some poignant passages. The central movement (‘Tempo di siciliana’) is an absolute delight, providing some exquisitely beautiful lines for the flute amidst some quite solemn chords for the guitar. The’ musical conversation’ is nicely structured throughout but is also infused with some strong feeling.

Where Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonatina is essentially ‘social’ music, metaphors of conversation coming inescapably to mind, Töru Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea is, as it were, outside society. It was commissioned by Greenpeace and intended an act of support for the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign which that organisation conducted in the 1970s and 80s. Its three movements all have titles which (more than a little ironically) allude to Melville’s Moby Dick, ‘The Night’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Cape Cod’, but isn’t necessary to relate the music to details of the novel. Indeed, Takemitsu’s music is far removed from the violence and mania of Melville’s great novel. ‘Man and the Sea’ is perhaps about as specific as one needs to be with regard to the ‘programme’ of this music; ‘smallness’ embraced by ‘vastness’, as it were. Though their ‘visions’ are very different, for both Melville and Takemitsu the ‘sea’ is a place of metaphysical and spiritual discovery and self-realisation. Takemitsu’s music is predominantly calm, prompting the hearer towards meditation, so that one might call the piece a kind of musical thalassotherapy. The long notes of Jacobs’s flute in the opening moments of the movement echo powerfully in the imagination. Unlike Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonatina, in which the composer chooses not to give one of the instruments a dominant role over the other, in Toward the Sea the flute (alto flute) is clearly the most important instrument, with the guitar largely confined to accompaniment. This is one of the best performances of Toward the Sea that I have heard, and it is well-served by the recorded sound which is spacious without being over-resonant. That Jacobs and Kalisvaart are equally convincing in two pieces of music as different as the works which open their programme says much for their insight and skill as musicians.

Ravi Shankar’s L’Aube enchantée sur le Raga ‘Todi’ was originally written for flute and harp and was dedicated to Jean-Pierre Rampal, who recorded it, in 1976, with the fine French harpist Martine Géliot. This excellent arrangement for flute and guitar – one of those happy occasions when nothing important seems to have been lost in the process of arrangement – was made by flautist Pierre-André Valade and guitarist Roberto Aussel and was recorded by them on a disc released in 1987, Guitar Plus Vol. 4 (Mandala MAN 4814). The ‘enchanted dawn’ of the piece’s title is not, of course, merely the daily return of the sun; this ‘dawn’ is both an earthly event and a powerful image of the human experience of a more than earthly ‘light’ which we might call a kind of spiritual enlightenment. Though there are many cultural and religious differences, listening to the work afresh on this disc, I was reminded of a poem called ‘The Dawning’ by one of my favourite poets, Henry Vaughan (1622-95). Vaughan begins the poem by speculating as to what time of day would be most appropriate for ‘Christ the Bridegroom’ to come to his ‘bride’ the church and goes on to conclude that dawn “is the only time / That with Thy glory doth best chime; / Full hymns doth yield, / The whole creation shakes off night”. Shankar’s piece evokes (though not knowingly, of course) both the daily experience and the hoped-for ecstatic experience of which Vaughan writes. The breaking of dawn is powerfully and bewitchingly evoked in the brief introduction for guitar, played magnificently by Irene Kalisvaart and ‘enchantment’ grows with changes of tempo and the sheer, hypnotic eloquence of the writing for the flute (Britta Jacobs’s control of tone and colour is a joy to hear). This is a remarkable piece of music, played superbly, which fuses more than one tradition, as it fuses two instruments. This work alone would justify the purchase of the disc by lovers of the flute, the guitar or, indeed Ravi Shankar. If I remember rightly, the name of this Raga, ‘Todi’, is also the name of a peaceful and beautiful young woman often depicted in Indian miniatures, usually in a pastoral setting and often holding an Indian string instrument, the veena, most often looking like a kind of lute, though the word can also refer to a harp. So much interrelated imagery and thought is brought together in this fascinating work.

The first version of Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances (Sz.56) was written for solo piano, in 1915. Two years later the composer produced a version (Sz.58) for chamber orchestra. Since then, this short suite of Transylvanian dances has been performed and recorded in a great many different versions – such as by violin and piano, cello and piano, solo organ, wind band and even mandolin and accordion (!). This is not the place to discuss the relative merits of all these arrangements, though I have to say that I think that most of them involve at least a partial dissipation of the qualities of the original keyboard version. The one definite exception that needs to be made from that generalisation, it seems to me, concerns the version for violin and piano made by Bartok’s friend the violinist Zokltan Székeky. Sadly, this well-known arrangement for flute and guitar by Arthur Levering unavoidably, however well played, does less than full justice to the original. It is a perfectly professional piece of work, but the instrumentation really isn’t appropriate for Bartok’s dances; flute and guitar don’t have the ‘bite’ to do justice to some of the rhythmic effects, for example. There are, of course, some parts which work better than others. In Dance No. III (Pe Loc), for instance, the flute part, judiciously played by Britta Jacobs does fair justice to the ‘middle eastern’ flavour of Bartok’s melody (perhaps not coincidentally, Bartok is reported to have heard this melody played on a shepherd’s flute). Dance No. IV ‘Buciumeana’ also makes a decent job of representing Bartok’s original composition, with the 3/4 rhythm and the long melodic lines of the flute working together attractively. Overall, however, this is, for reasons outlined above (reasons which are not the fault of either the composer or the performers) the one work on the disc which I find mildly disappointing.

The performance which closes the disc – of Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango – is certainly far from being any kind of disappointment. Like Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, this is a work which has been arranged for many instrumental figurations; but here we have it in the composer’s original form. In its four movements (‘Bordell 1900’-‘Café 1930’-Nightclub 1960’ and ‘Concert d’aujourd’hui’) Piazzolla seeks to represent four important stages in the evolution of the tango. Though only the Tango of the bordello was normally played by flute and guitar, while the tango of ‘1930’, ‘1960’ and ‘aujourd’hui’ generally used larger ensembles, Piazzolla’s music successfully presents the metamorphosis of the form in a manner both engaging and instructive. Some remarks by Yo-Yo Ma are perfectly evidenced by this performance of the Histoire du Tango:

 “Piazzolla’s music is endlessly passionate – full of yearning – and at the same time tremendously contemporary […] He actually took the tango to another level by inhabiting his music. The music grew in him, and he adeptly incorporated the influences of his surroundings – whether from New York, Paris, or Buenos Aires” (‘Foreword’, Le Grand Tango: The Life and Music of Astor Piazzolla, by Marîa Susanna Azzi and Simon Collier, Oxford University Press, 2000, p.ix).

The intelligence and sensitivity of Britta Jacobs and Irene Kalisvaart ensure that each of the movements of Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango successfully evokes a time and a place, shot through with an inbuilt nostalgia and sensuality. The music contrives to be both romantic and erotic in its impact, but there is an enduring grace of expression throughout.

Despite my unease about the arrangement of Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, in every other respect I have found this disc rewarding and full of impressive musicianship, constantly perceptive and idiomatic. So far as I can see, this is the first recording made by the duo of Britta Jacobs and Irene Kalisvaart. I very much hope that more recordings will follow – I shall certainly look out for any that do.

Glyn Pursglove

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