Notes and Editorial Reviews
Flute Sonatas: in b
, BWV 1030
; in E
, BWV 1035;
, BWV 1032;
, BWV 1034;
, BWV 1031
Philippa Davies (fl); Maggie Cole (hpd); Alison McGillivray (vc)
AVIE 2101 (64:11)
My 17 readers know every time I receive a new recording
of Bach’s sonatas for flute, I cringe. Please, Lord, please, let it be a good one this time! The problem is that Bach is like chocolate ice cream. The most common flavor, almost impossible to ruin, but also one of the hardest to get just right. How many times have you eaten chocolate ice cream that was simply perfect, that melted in your mouth, not in the spoon, that was sweet but not sickening, that could rate as high culinary art? Not often, I bet.
Bach’s sonatas suffer from a similar fate. Part of the regular program in every conservatory, they have been played by every flute student in the world, and have been recorded to exhaustion. Very few flutists have resisted the temptation to show what they can do with this wonderful material, from Jean-Pierre Rampal to Peter Lukas Graf, from Barthold Kuijken to Ashley Solomon. And with the constant repetition, a canon was established: nowadays, there is not that much distance between two recordings of a Bach sonata, as concern the choice of tempos or inflections, ornaments or character. Among the dozens of versions that I own, there isn`t one horrendous flop. Even if the peaks are not numerous, the lows are still acceptable.
This creates a big challenge for anyone who faces these works. How can one be personal without being weird just for the sake of being different? How can one add to a discography that already seems complete? The success of the period-instrument movement has raised the bar even higher. How can a modern flutist make a contribution when out there many Baroque flutists who have read all the treatises have already released politically correct recordings? What is there to add?
Plenty, as this CD proves. With the help of the darker sound of a wooden instrument (which brings it closer to its Baroque counterpart) Philippa Davies displays here her flawless technique, outstanding musicality, and a flute sound to kill for. Round, mellow, intense, and delicious as the best Belgian chocolate. If I wanted to be really picky, I could point out that, like most modern flutists, Philippa Davies uses legato whenever she wants to play lyrically, and that in 18th-century music a wider variety of articulation would be welcome. I could also mention that I would prefer if she didn’t add a touch of vibrato to the ends of long notes. But that would be splitting hairs, really. And the fact is that none of these fine points bother me when I listen to the CD in my civilian guise, without trying to find something to criticize.
A flutist with the excellent Nash Ensemble, Davies is not considered a specialist in Baroque repertoire, and yet her unfailing instinct does not let her down. Her playing is, simply put, beautiful! Slow movements are moving and tender; fast movements sparkle with energy and wit. Ornaments are few but well placed, dynamics clear and always correct, intonation perfect. There is not a single phrase that does not have an interesting inflection, or a single note that sounds careless or harsh. And even if articulations feel a bit modern sometimes, the variety of expression is admirable and wholly Baroque: there are moments of intense sadness, as well as of lighthearted mirth, of almost sensual intimacy, and melancholy detachment.
The graphic presentation of the CD is unusually good, simple but elegant, as are the extensive liner notes by Robert White. The recorded sound (by Ben Connellan) is also first-class, allowing sufficient space between the instruments that the listener can perceive every detail of the instrumental sound, but blending the three timbres in the most felicitous manner.
To make things even better, Philippa Davies chose her companions well. Her colleagues in this adventure, harpsichordist Maggie Cole and cellist Alison McGillivray, are both marvelous players who perform with the same freedom and organic sense of where to breathe and where to lead each phrase in a rare balance of talents. Nothing feels too slow or too rushed, and the two musicians seem to know exactly how much space they should occupy within every musical gesture, bringing their vast experience in Baroque music to the recipe, producing with the flutist the delectable mix that would make a nouvelle-cuisine chef proud: chocolate ice cream with just a touch of spice, which will please the palate of the most discriminating gourmet.
FANFARE: Laura Rónai
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