Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fantasias: Nos. 1–12
Jed Wentz (Baroque fl) (period instrument)
BRILLIANT 93440 (53:44)
I will start with a brazen declaration: Jed Wentz is an old-fashioned interpreter. Those who know Jed Wentz will be understandably puzzled at my labeling him thus. Let me explain: any Wentz CD invites some shocking assertion, for the fun of it. If you listen to one, you will understand what I mean. And just to clarify the use of the expression “old-fashioned”: I use it to qualify an interpreter with a personality,
something hard to find nowadays. “Old-fashioned” in the sense applied to Rubinstein or Menuhin: musicians who had something to say, and did not hesitate to say it loudly and clearly, frequently against the opinion of the rest of the world.
In the delicious liner text (I have to restrain myself from yielding to the temptation of reproducing it in its entirety), Wentz basically spends the two pages justifying his performance of these works. He observes: “Why this detailed apology? Because I here present my interpretation of pieces so well known that most flutists could play them backwards while balancing a piccolo on their nose. Certain aspects of my performance may surprise, but I have not tried to “do something special” with these beautiful, moving, utterly charming pieces, nor did I wish to make a kind of statement with them, I simply play them as I believe I ought to play them. To those who find the results willful or freakish I wish to emphasize that we must all follow our inner light.”
Indeed, it says a lot about the annoyingly politically correct posture of our musical establishment when a fine performer feels the need to explain his option of interpreting music the way he sees fit! And it says a lot about Wentz that he will do anything in his power to convince the listener to give him a fighting chance.
My mother (who will be 84 this year) tells me that in her formative years in Hungary it was common in most restaurants to find Gypsy violinists who would approach the table of any couple engaged in romantic conversation and would ask the lady what her favorite piece was. Then, no matter what the piece, style, or composer, they would proceed to play the piece, from beginning to end, with overflowing energy and almost excessive emotion. Looking at the picture on the cover of this particular CD, Mom immediately exclaimed that this Mr. Wentz looks like a Gypsy! And when she heard him play, she added that he plays like one!
Well, she is not far off. Wentz has that exuberant quality, the impulsive vein, the virtuoso technique, the stamina, and the sense of fun that permeate genuine Gypsy music. He grabs a piece, turns it inside out, makes it his own. He takes all kinds of liberty with tempo, dynamics, inflections. He pushes the flute to its very limits, and is certainly not worried about being prim or proper. Hard passages seem easy to him, and notes fly by with the speed of a hurricane. Calm moments are few and short. After listening to the whole CD, I felt as dishevelled and unsettled as if, on a windy day, I had driven a long distance on a motorcycle without a helmet. A visceral, strong experience. This approach is, of course, controversial; and it has earned him a few wrinkled noses. Wentz recordings are never calm, smooth, poised. On the other hand, they are never boring, either. In the present case, the result of this unique approach is immensely interesting. After all, fantasias are especially appropriate for such fanciful romps. And how can a fantasia have too much fantasy?
I found it particularly enlightening to listen to Rachel Brown`s magnificent version of these works (recently released by Uppernote Recordings), which I received in the very same week when Wentz’s version reached my mailbox. There could not be two more radically different recordings to compare than these, even though both are played on Baroque instruments. One has what the other lacks, in the same way that a French banquet lacks Chinese ingredients, and vice-versa. Each one is complete and entirely fulfilling in its own particular style. Where Wentz is raw, exuberant, nervous, vigorous, intense, Rachel Brown is stable, soothing, delicate, sophisticated, feminine, insinuating, richly nuanced, and always refined. His ornamentation is simple and impressive; hers is brilliantly suave. His tempos are fast and forward; hers, calm and spacious.
It is certainly a testimony to the quality of these works that two such diverse approaches could thrive and be entirely convincing. I emphatically suggest to anyone interested in the music of the Baroque era to acquire both recordings. To the flutist, they are also a valuable lesson in performance, not to be missed.
FANFARE: Laura Rónai
Works on This Recording
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