Patrick Gallois French Flute Music Naxos

Déjà Review: this review was first published in March 2005 and the recording is still available.

French Flute Music
Patrick Gallois (flute)
Lydia Wong (piano)
rec. 2003, Performing Arts Centre, The Country Day School, King City, Canada 
Naxos 8.557328 [60]

A pupil of Jean-Pierre Rampal at the Paris Conservatoire, Patrick Gallois led the flutes in the Orchestre National de France before embarking on a solo career. He is also a conductor and is currently the Music Director of the Sinfonia Finlandia Jysvaskyla. He has recorded for a variety of labels, including DG and Ondine; the latter in Rautavaara’s Flute Concerto, ODE921-2. On , recordings include C.P.E. Bach’s complete flute concertos and Mozart’s concertos.

The present French recital makes for a fascinating hour’s listening. The Poulenc is a perfect opener, not only because of its fame. It is almost certainly the best-known work here. It introduces Gallois’s slightly breathy tone and Wong’s sensitive accompanying although she seems placed slightly too far back. Certainly the wheel of the accompaniment for the first movement turns, nicely greased.

That the pair work well together is seen in the peaceful slow movement, where a beautiful dialogue between flute and piano right-hand treble is very engaging. The finale is cotton-wool light, imbued with a most appealing, alive rhythmic sense.

Olivier Messiaen’s Le Merle noir makes for quite a contrast, immediately more austere. This is a gripping performance, with Gallois and Wong following the composer’s twists and turns faithfully. The suddenly animated section at 2’13 onwards is very effective, as are the ‘stellar’ birds (bird-song meeting music of the stars) at 4’58. With Gallois and Wong, this piece dances infectiously.

In direct contrast is the amiable fluff of Pierre Sancan’s Sonatine. Cowering under the weight of Messiaen, it is perhaps not ideally placed. There are plenty of programmes when upon hearing it one might purr with delight. As Keith Anderson’s booklet notes point out, there is more than a hint of the Debussian here. But be careful. So harmless is this that if you start listening while sleepy, you’ll soon be in the Land of Nod. The agile finale is superbly played, by Wong in particular.

André Jolivet, a Varèse pupil, contributes the Chant de Linos, a funerary lament. Certainly this piece has more mettle than the Sancan. There is a sensuality here but indulgence is kept at bay by the piquancy of the harmonic language, and later on in the work the rhythms that sit on the cusp of dance and dynamism – with an acidic undercurrent – make for an exciting ride.

Dutilleux’s Sonatine is a fabulous work. Wong pedals the opening – hands two octaves apart – perfectly, with just the right amount of blur without losing definition. Together, Gallois and Wong set up an atmosphere of delicate warmth. However, the flute cadenza could be more declamatory and the build-up to 5’38 is mismanaged: left too late and therefore emerging without adequate tension. Yet Wong’s ‘toccata’ immediately thereafter is superb. The major disappointment, however, comes in the way they ‘prettify’ the music for long stretches so that the piano ‘outburst’ when it comes (around 7’44), a nod to Messiaen if ever there was one, sounds out of place. Excellent coda, though, especially from Gallois.

And so to the real meat. Pierre Boulez’s Sonatine unsurprisingly belies its tame title; it was premièred in Darmstadt. Such an innocuous name, such a difficult piece. Boulez referred to his Sonatine as ‘organised delirium’. The flute writing is exploratory in nature and the harmonic language advanced but very, very beautiful; try the piano chords around 0’37. The piano’s ‘gamelan impression’ (around three minutes in) is Debussy through a modernist prism. More, there are plenty of chances to hear Boulez in playful mode; how often does one hear that? 

Much to enjoy here and very nearly an unqualified recommendation. This disc is not only for flautists, but should provide much enjoyment and stimulation for all. Just don’t turn the disc off after the Dutilleux!

Colin Clarke

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Sonata for Flute and Piano (1956/7) 
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Le Merle noir (1951) 
Pierre Sancan (b. 1916)
Sonatine (1946) 
André Jolivet (1905-1974)
Chant de Linos (1944) 
Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013)
Sonatine (1942) 
Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)
Sonatine (1946)