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Silver Bow sees flautist Katherine Bryan present a fresh view on some much-loved works, together with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen. All the works, originally written for violin, feature captivating melodies that Katherine believes were crying out to be explored from the perspective of a different instrument.
A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.
The recording opens with one of the best-loved pieces in the classical repertoire, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The lark ascending. Written in 1914 but not performed until after the war, the work takes its title from a poem by George Meredith, with Vaughan Williams including the following lines in the preface to the score:
He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes …
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.
The lark ascending opens with the soloist repeating birdsong-like phrases over the sound of a hushed orchestra. These sounds are later developed into the main theme, which is treated to several contrasting variations as the work progresses. The solo violin part retains a bird-like quality throughout and the work eventually culminates in a euphoric final section that depicts the lark taking flight and soaring above the orchestra.
Having grown up listening to The lark ascending, Bryan had always thought it would work well on the flute, but her research revealed that there were no readily available transcriptions. She points out that the flute and piccolo are often used in an orchestral context to depict birdsong, so it seemed a natural progression to adapt this piece for the instrument.
The main challenge in adapting the solo part was the range: the flute can play as high as the violin, but the colour of the sound in this register is very different—the violin tends to be more delicate whereas the flute is naturally louder. For this reason, Bryan has rendered some sections in the octave below that in which they were originally written. There is also some double stopping towards the end of the piece, which she has dealt with by giving the lower part to the clarinet, with the solo flute taking the top line.
Camille Saint-Saëns’ Introduction et rondo capriccioso, Op 28, is a virtuosic piece for violin and orchestra written in 1863 for the Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate. After a reflective opening, it soon erupts into a dazzling showpiece with challenges aplenty for the violinist, including lightning-quick arpeggios and chromatic sections. The music is lively and fun, with the quality of a habanera, a traditional Spanish dance.
Saint-Saëns and Sarasate first met when the composer was 24 and the violinist was just 15; both about to embark on a long and illustrious career.The first work Saint-Saëns composed for him was his Violin Concerto in A minor, followed four years later by the Introduction et rondo capriccioso, Op 28. Though the piece has previously been adapted for the flute, the version on this recording is new.
Bryan has dealt with the double stopping in this work by giving the lower part to the first violin. However, the biggest challenge here was the cadenza, which is filled with double, triple and even quadruple stopping. For this reason, Bryan has written an entirely new cadenza, retaining the same harmonic pattern but creating new music that is idiomatic for the flute.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Gadfly Suite, written in 1955, is a 12-movement suite for orchestra created from the score to the Soviet film The Gadfly, based on the novel of the same name by Ethel Lilian Voynich. The beguiling solo violin melody in the ‘Romance’ contains shades of Massenet’s ‘Méditation’ from Thaïs, also included on this recording. Throughout the suite, the music is more tonal and rhythmically straightforward than much of Shostakovich’s output.
Born in 1906, Shostakovich spent his entire life under the Soviet system and struggled through most of his career to stay in favour with the authorities. His music was variously condemned as ‘muddle instead of music’, ‘coarse, primitive and vulgar’ and ‘anti-people art’, and he was forced for long periods to devote himself to film scores and patriotic music to avoid falling foul of the authorities. The Gadfly Suite is a good example of his ability to adapt and even parody different styles. In terms of the key, Bryan has opted for F major for this version to enable the flute to descend to the music in the low sections. This is one of three pieces on this recording for which she enlisted the help of arranger Chris Hazell, who has made some minor changes to the orchestral part, mainly to ensure the flute is not overpowered by the orchestra.
František Drdla, born in 1868, was a Czech violinist and composer of light music. His Serenade No 1 for violin and piano is among his most widely performed works, and is often used as an encore by violinists as well as other instrumentalists in various arrangements. For this version, Hazell has created a new orchestral score for strings.
Though he wrote several large-scale orchestral works, three operettas, a violin concerto and two piano trios, Drdla is best known for his salon music, much of which reimagines popular Hungarian folk melodies in the grand Viennese style. Many of his best-known tunes were made famous after being adopted by violinists, including Jan Kubelik, Joseph Szigeti and Váša Príhoda.
Saint-Saëns’ Romance, Op 37 is an original flute piece, and was written in 1871 as part of a series of romances for violin, horn and cello. Though the work was originally conceived for flute and piano, Saint-Saëns also later wrote the richly scored orchestral version heard on this recording. Transcriptions have also been made for the violin, in a direct reversal of the process undergone by most of the works on this recording.
By contrast, Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices for solo violin have become synonymous with the instrument for which they were written. Composed between 1802 and 1817, they are some of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire—so difficult, in fact, that the violinists of the time declared them unplayable. However, they are now widely performed and are among the most popular showpieces for the instrument.
Born in 1782 in Genoa, Paganini was a virtuoso performer who pushed the limits of the instrument and introduced previously unknown techniques. Many of these come to bear in the Caprices, which present not only a wide array of technical challenges but also a feast of original and beautiful music. They represent the first steps in Paganini’s revolution of violin playing, though it was several more years before his innovations became widely adopted.
The Caprice No 24 is among the best known and has been treated to multiple transcriptions for other instruments, including the flute. Bryan has created her own version here, using the original violin part as a starting point. She has kept the overall arc of the piece the same, but there are obvious difficulties in adapting such a violin specific work for a different instrument: double stopping sections have been replaced with techniques specific to the flute, such as flutter tonguing (Variation 5), and the pizzicato in Variation 7 has been replaced with a technique that Bryan refers to as ‘pop tonguing’.
Written in 1893, Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs is based on a novel by the French author Anatole France about an ancient Egyptian courtesan called Thaïs who is converted to Christianity by a hermit monk. The ‘Méditation’ comes towards the end of the opera and is effectively a showpiece for the leader of the orchestra. It appears between the first and second scenes of Act II and portrays a change in Thaïs as she veers from wanting to seduce the priest to resolving to begin a serious religious life.
The music for this scene is written in D major and lasts around five minutes. Following a short introduction by the harps, the soloist enters with the main melody before the music gradually starts to become more passionate. There is then a short cadenza-like passage before the main theme returns and builds to an even more passionate climax. Some commentators have suggested that Massenet may have intended the ‘Méditation’ to be an explicitly religious piece: indeed, the tempo marking is Andante Religioso.
The ‘Méditation’ has been transcribed for various instrumental combinations, including piano and flute, and harp and flute (the orchestral score’s prominent harp part makes harp transcriptions especially attractive, and since the harp and flute are often used together in duets, this seems a natural combination for this work). The original violin part sits well for the flute and almost no changes have been made in this version.
Another violin virtuoso, Fritz Kreisler, was born in 1875 in Vienna to a Jewish father and a German mother, Kreisler emigrated to France during the Second World War and later lived in the USA, becoming an American citizen. He was most famous for his warm tone, unusually expressive vibrato and distinctively Viennese phrasing, but he also made a significant contribution as a composer.
Kreisler’s three Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen (‘Old Viennese Melodies’) are among his best known compositions. Entitled ‘Liebesfreud’ (‘Love’s Joy’), ‘Liebesleid’ (‘Love’s Sorrow’) and ‘Schön Rosmarin’ (‘Lovely Rosemary’), they are usually played separately and were often used by the composer himself as encores. It is not known when they were written, but they were first published in 1905.
‘Liebesleid’ is, as the title suggests, the most subdued of the three pieces—a wistful turn-of the-century waltz filled with Viennese charm. Bryan has been familiar with this trio of pieces since she was a child and says ‘Liebesleid’ was always her favourite. Very little has been adapted here from the original violin part, though some sections have been transcribed up an octave.
Finally, Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerwiesen, Op 20 (‘Gypsy Airs’) is another staple violin showpiece. Written in 1878 at the peak of his career, it remains his most popular and widely performed work, with the orchestral and piano versions both enjoying regular performances. Like Sarasate’s playing, the piece could be accused of lacking in musical substance; but it contains plenty in the way of entertainment.
Zigeunerweisen represents a departure from the Spanish style Sarasate usually employed in his compositions and is loosely based on the czardas, a Hungarian folk dance that was popular in the 1850s–1880s. The dance is typically divided into alternating slow and fast sections, with the fast sections in the style of gypsy dances. The fast sections in this piece are a tour de force for the soloist, featuring technical challenges including harmonics, rapid passagework and frequent double stopping. The slow middle section, meanwhile, is based on a song by the Hungarian composer Elemér Szentirmai.
As with the other pieces on this recording, there were some challenges in adapting Zigeunerweisen for the flute. Bryan’s version is based on the existing flute and piano adaptation by Werner Richter, which is a fifth higher than the original for violin. To mirror the histrionics in the violin part, there is more ‘pop tonguing’, and Bryan has also added a few note bends, where she slides the pitch up and down by changing the direction of the air. It’s another example of how, instead of trying to imitate the violin, Bryan has adapted the music to enable the flute to shine in its own way.
Femke Colborne © 2015
I would like to thank all the violinists who have inspired me, and my family for their constant support.
Katherine Bryan © 2015