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Young flautist Katherine Bryan is rapidly confirming her place as one of Britain's bright musical stars of the future. For her recital debut the in-demand concerto soloist performs a selection of 20th-century concertos, including the rarely recorded Liebermann Concerto for flute and orchestra.
A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.
Lowell Liebermann: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, Op 39 (1992)
Born in New York, in 1961, Lowell Liebermann’s output as a composer is substantial and wide-ranging, covering genres including opera and concertos, as well as orchestral, chamber, vocal, choral and instrumental music. Known as one of the most significant of contemporary composers, his works have garnered much critical claim, wide renown and numerous awards.
Described as one of the most frequently commissioned and performed of living American composers, Liebermann was a student of Vincent Persichetti and David Diamond at New York’s Juilliard School of Music, and has been championed for some years by various musicians, including the renowned flautist Sir James Galway. Liebermann’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, Op 39, completed in 1992, was composed at the request of Galway, and was first performed on 6 November the same year in St Louis, Missouri with Galway as soloist and Leonard Slatkin conducting the Saint Louis Symphony.
The flute concerto was not the first solo work that Liebermann had written for the instrument, the year 1987 seeing a Sonata for Flute and Piano (Op 23), while a Sonata for Flute and Guitar (Op 25) was completed by Liebermann in the following year. The Op 23 sonata and the later concerto are largely regarded as two of the most significant contributions to the flute repertoire in the late-twentieth century; indeed on its publication the Op 39 concerto was awarded the prize of the ‘Best Newly Published Flute Work’ by America’s National Flute Association in 1994 and, at the time of writing, recordings of the sonata number over twenty. Performances of both the sonata and concerto are also frequent, with further additions to the flute repertoire by Liebermann confirming him as a particular favourite of flautists across the globe.
Liebermann’s personal musical style is overtly tonal, which allows his compositions to be approachable and comprehensible to the general listener as well to performers. As a composer he doesn’t follow particular current trends and styles, preferring to employ largely Romantic and post-Romantic qualities within a particular contemporary American idiom. In composing for particular instruments Liebermann normally doesn’t write music or adapt his writing style with any particular performer in mind stating ‘whenever I write a piece, I always write for my imagined ideal performer”. However, Galway provided an exception to this rule, Liebermann saying “he has such an incredible sound and such incredible low notes that I did emphasize a lot of that […] He can do anything on the instrument, so I wasn’t afraid to write anything’. In being appealing to many and largely tonal, Liebermann avoids overall simplicity, and in writing for his ‘imagined ideal performer’ he creates technically exacting and challenging works.
The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra is in a traditional three-movement classical concerto format, with a Moderato first movement, a Molto adagio second movement and a closing Presto. In further discussing his compositional processes Liebermann describes how ‘I like the overall large form of the work to develop out of the smallest idea or seed that you’re working with’, a trait exemplified by the opening Moderato movement of the flute concerto, which is based around the opening repetitive theme heard in the strings. The various qualities of the flute are explored in the variations that follow the main lyrical flute theme; the flute writing becomes increasingly involved and elaborate as the movement develops, interrupted only by calmer brass chorale sections. At the end of the movement the recapitulation indicates the influence of sonata form, although with the main theme now stated by the strings while the flute presents a highly decorated line above.
The second movement of the concerto explores the lyrical and delicately translucent characteristics of the flute. Persistent and gentle string chords accompany the introduction of a whispered statement of the main theme of the movement, which is presented at various points in a serene and restful manner and at others euphoric, building towards the climax at the close of the movement. The almost relentless and often demanding final movement, Presto, has been described by Liebermann as ‘a virtuoso workout for the flutist in a rondo-like form which closes with a prestissimo coda’.
Georges Hüe: Fantaisie
The French composer Georges Hüe, while he wrote in a number of genres, was perhaps most well known during his lifetime for his contribution to opera. Born in 1858, and hailing from Versailles, to the west of Paris, Hüe studied with, among others, the noted organist of Paris’s St Clotilde basilica church and professor at the Paris Conservatoire César Franck, and the composer Charles Gounod. While he won the coveted Prix de Rome prize for composition in 1879, and had some notable successes in the Paris Opéra and Opéra Comique, much of his music met with limited success over time, although some of his choral works are of note as well as a number of pieces such as this particular Fantaisie for flute and orchestra.
Hüe composed the Fantaisie in 1913 and dedicated the work to the renowned flautist and professor at the Paris Conservatoire, Adolphe Hennebains, who had commissioned it for the conservatoire’s concours during the same year. Despite much of Hüe’s music being forgotten today, the Fantaisie has proved a durable part of the flute repertoire over the almost one hundred years since its composition. Consisting of a single movement the Fantaisie is a concise essay that demonstrates the many facets of the flute, through frequently changing tempi, disposition and colour. It contains much of the impressionist techniques, musical language and sound world with which Hüe was increasingly experimenting at the time. The opening slow section of the work provides a subtle character that accompanies the more sophisticated flute line. A more lyrical and flowing section ensues with a gathering momentum that continues to the end of the work. While providing a subtly pleasing work the Fantaisie is fairly representative of concours works of the time, containing a number of themes from his previous compositions, notably his operas, while providing a suitable challenge for the player to execute.
Carl Nielsen: Concerto for flute and orchestra, FS119
The Danish composer Carl Nielsen wrote only three concertos during his lifetime: for violin, clarinet and flute. Despite being few in number, they form a significant part of his output as a whole alongside his six substantial symphonies. The three concertos all came into being in the latter part of Nielsen’s life, with the flute and clarinet concertos coming particularly late in 1926 and 1928 respectively. The flute concerto was Nielsen’s first major work following the completion of his sixth and final symphony in the previous year, and was composed for the flautist Holger Gilbert-Jespersen. It was intended to be the first of a series of concertos for each wind instrument, but in the event he was only able to complete two of these projected works.
Ill-health had dogged Nielsen for much of 1926 and he had composed very little up to the summer of that year. However, in August, he travelled to Munich as part of a group who were to listen to radios in the city and subsequently advise on the technology that was to be fitted as part of a new radio mast in the Danish city of Kalundborg. In Munich, Nielsen was able to work on the flute concerto, the manuscript of which he had brought with him, and from here he was to travel to Florence and Tuscany where progress on the concerto continued apace before ill-health interrupted once more in September. The concerto was due to be premiered in Paris on 21 October, and with time running short to complete the work prior to the first performance, Nielsen had to assign a temporary conclusion to the concerto for its first performance. The concerto, conducted by Emil Telmányi, was lauded in Paris, despite its incomplete state, and it wasn’t until the end of January 1927 in Copenhagen that the flute concerto was heard complete for the first time, having received a further ‘incomplete’ performance in Oslo in November 1926 under the baton of Nielsen.
In referring to the flute concerto Nielsen stated ‘the flute cannot deny its own nature, its home is in Arcadia and it prefers pastoral moods. Hence, the composer has had to follow the mild character of the instrument if he did not want to run the risk of being called a barbarian’. The concerto consists of only two movements, the first an energetic Allegro moderato and the second an allegretto, concluding with a settled Adagio. Throughout the concerto the particular nature of the flute as regarded by Nielsen is clear, with emphasis on its idyllic qualities, sometimes almost exaggerated.
In referring to the concerto Nielsen described the opening movement as lightly discordant with the beginning ‘if anything, kept in a free, improvisatory style […] the solo instrument moves about as if seeking something, until it takes hold of a more decisive motive’. Heavily featured throughout the concerto is the bass trombone, which, as the direct opposite of the flute, acts almost as a nemesis throughout, providing much lovable humour and interplay between the two instruments. The flute reacts strongly to the series of interruptions and occasionally heated conversations with its opposite number, which eventually lead up to the revelatory moment where the bass trombone, in much the wrong key, unwittingly discovers the resolution of the music, providing an unexpectedly reconciled ending.
Francis Poulenc: Sonata for flute, Op 164
From the earliest part of his musical life, Poulenc was influenced by a wide range of composers from Satie and the Parisian music hall through Stravinsky and Debussy to Mozart and even Couperin. Having been raised in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century, he was surrounded from an early age by the some of the most renowned composers and musicians of the day. His childhood home was particularly cultured, with his mother providing many of these influences through her own musical tastes, while not discouraging his further exploration. Vital to his musical education also was the pianist Ricardo Viñes – also resident in Paris – who was to introduce him to many of the fashionable names of the day, perhaps most importantly to Erik Satie.
For much of the early part of his career Poulenc was unfortunately regarded as trivial and shallow and a composer mostly of light music. He was scornfully rejected for study at the Paris Conservatoire, the director of which accused him of wasting his time and making a mockery of the institution. However, a level of renown was gained by Poulenc as a member of the group of French and Swiss composers Les Six (along with Milhaud, Honegger, Auric, Taillefferre, and Durey). Poulenc was later to emerge as the most significant and enduring member of this group, with an almost complete change in opinions on his music occurring in the latter half of his life and in the years after his death in 1963. This transformation in attitudes to Poulenc was, however, mainly due to a shift in his musical style, which occurred mostly during the 1930s and was thought to have been influenced by the death of a number of people close to him, along with a re-evaluation of his religious faith.
As a composer Poulenc largely turned away from substantial symphonic works, preferring to write on a smaller scale. While making an important contribution to the concerto genre, some of his most profound works are those based on religious themes, particularly in his choral works and the tragic and moving opera Dialogues des Carmélites. He also wrote a significant number of works for solo instrument and piano, and the Flute Sonata, Op 164, completed in 1957, was originally scored for just flute and piano. It was the first sonata of an intended series for each wind instrument, although he was unable to finish the series before his death, managing to complete just three works for flute, clarinet and oboe. It is thought that his original plan for the sonatas was inspired by the six sonatas that Debussy had earlier planned for himself towards the end of his life, of which he also only managed to complete three.
The orchestrated version of the sonata heard in this recording was made by the English composer Lennox Berkeley in 1976. Created at the request of James Galway, the sonata was first heard in the orchestral adaptation in March the following year in London’s Royal Festival Hall; Galway was the flute soloist while Charles Dutoit conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. A long-standing friend of Poulenc, Berkeley had lived and studied in Paris from 1926. While Poulenc had been something of an influence to him, Berkeley had also imbibed much more of the French music by which he was surrounded, leaving an identifiable strand throughout many of his future works. He was very much interested in the orchestrations of Ravel and Debussy, and while Berkeley didn’t regard Poulenc as a ‘great’ composer, he nevertheless admired ‘the intensely individual flavour of his music, and the way in which he has been almost completely unaffected by […] various musical fashions that have sprung up’.
Dedicated to the memory of the American pianist and musical patron, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the sonata was first performed in its original version by Poulenc with the flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal shortly after its completion in 1957. He had first thought of writing the sonata some time earlier in 1952, and following the commission from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in 1956, the sketches he had previously done were to become part of the completed work. Consisting of three movements the sonata is of traditional proportions in a fast-slow-fast arrangement. Poulenc has stated that the composition is, for the most part, quite free, and over the three movements he presents a variety of emotions in which the flute excels. The opening Allegro malinconico presents a muted exuberance that is overshadowed by the opening minor key and the seeming struggle between major and minor throughout. The slow central movement, Cantilena, provides some relief but with tension below the surface, while the Presto giocoso presents almost unrelenting jollity.
Adam Binks © 2010
The Nielsen concerto will always feel very personal to me after winning a national competition with a performance of it when I was a teenager. The Hüe and Poulenc are both pieces I love and have played many times in recital with piano, so to play them in their orchestral versions has brought a new and exciting dimension. I feel that Lowell Liebermann’s concerto encompasses all the emotions and colours of which the flute is so brilliantly capable and it is for me, quite simply a 20th century virtuoso masterpiece, and thrilling to play.
I hope you enjoy this disc as much as I did recording it.
Katherine Bryan © 2010