April 19, 2007


The Art of the Flute—Mozart: Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, K. 448, arranged for two flutes and piano by Elisabeth Weinzierl and Edmund Wächter; Kuhlau: Grand Trio in G Major for two flutes and piano, Op. 119; Françaix: Le Colloque des deux perruches, for flute and alto flute; Saint-Saëns: Tarantelle for flute, clarinet and piano, Op. 6; Poulenc: Sonata for flute and piano. Wolfgang Schulz, flute and alto flute; Matthias Schulz, flute; Peter Schmidl, clarinet; Madoka Inui, piano. Naxos. $8.99.

The Art of the Cello—Hummel: Grand Sonata in A Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 104; Haydn: Trio No. 1, in G Major, for Flute, Cello and Piano; Chopin: Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 65. Franz Bartolomey, cello; Madoka Inui, piano; Monika Guca, flute. Naxos. $8.99.

      In the pantheon of orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic is in the very top tier, and many would name it the greatest orchestra of all. Its astonishingly smooth sound comes in part from the longevity of service of many of its players: it is not unusual for someone to spend two or three decades, or more, with this orchestra. A top-notch Naxos series featuring some of the Vienna Philharmonic’s leading players provides rare insight into how this orchestra performs as superbly as it does.

      The Art of the Flute features Wolfgang Schulz, who has been the orchestra’s principal flautist since 1970, when he was only 24. His son, Matthias, plays with the Vienna Philharmonic, too (as well as with other orchestras). Together they trip through music of varying quality, giving all of it the best possible opportunity to enchant listeners. Mozart’s Sonata K. 448 sounds delightful, if a bit odd, in this arrangement, in which the piano is relegated to a secondary role. Any solemnity of the second movement disappears behind brightness, and the finale percolates prettily as the flautists display superb breath control. In Friedrich Kuhlau’s Grand Trio, the first movement flows very well, with the flutes sometimes in unison and sometimes finishing each other’s phrases, and the piano being an equal contributor to the effects; the second movement aspires to some emotional depth (it is marked “Adagio patetico”), but proves only touching and pleasant; and the finale is full of bounce and light, with Johann Straussian verve to the rondo theme. Pianist Madoka Inui deserves a special mention here for keeping her Bösendorfer – typically a resounding, dominant instrument – well under control.

      Jean Françaix’ “Colloquy of Two Parrots” is an oddity, filled with amazing intertwining that is kept interesting – for a while – by the instruments’ different ranges and their similar but contrasted thematic material. But the sameness of tone, albeit in different ranges, ultimately catches up to the piece, which is a curiosity that seems more enjoyable to play than to hear on CD. In contrast, Saint-Saëns’ early Tarantelle is great fun, filled with bounce and lovely themes, with something of a perpetuum mobile feel to the piano part and a pleasantly lyrical central section. The flute and clarinet parts lie quite well on the instruments. And Poulenc’s Sonata is quite interesting. The first movement is harmonically intriguing, with underlying seriousness, good flow and ample ornamentation; the second movement is thoughtful, with the piano given some prominence; and then the finale sweeps all darkness away in a bright display piece – although it does dip into the minor. The Schulzes, father and son, play with tremendous panache and full understanding of the differing styles of these works, handling all of them virtuosically and with careful attention to the composers’ individual approaches.

      The Art of the Cello features another long-serving first-chair player: Franz Bartolomey, who has been the Vienna Philharmonic’s principal cellist since 1973, when he was 27. The interesting thing about this CD is that two of the three works that Bartolomey chooses to play are far from being showpieces for the cello: the Hummel focuses more on piano and the Haydn more on flute. Hummel’s Grand Sonata opens with a dark-hued, emotional movement that effectively counters the accusation that this composer was inevitably superficial. The second movement, a lovely Romance, features a pop-style tune that in fact is similar to the tune of a Belgian hit song from the 1970s; here Hummel has the piano dominate as the cello winds around it. The piano dominates even more in the finale, placing the cello in so subsidiary a role that Bartolomey plays a more cello-centric version of the movement here, developed by noted 19th-century cellist Friedrich Grützmacher. The overall impression left by this piece is one of shared virtuosity in which the cello takes a back seat to the piano more often than not.

      The Haydn is light and poised music in which the flute usually comes to the fore. The cello rumbles along in the first movement, anchoring the other instruments – but the very full sound of Bartolomey’s 1727 David Tecchler cello makes this part more prominent than it might otherwise be. The second movement opens like a piano sonata, but flute and cello soon join in; delicacy is the main effect here. The finale flows pleasantly but is marred by a series of foot thumps – presumably from the flautist, since they appear only in this piece (and can be heard to a lesser extent in the first and second movements as well). The piano tends to take the lead as this movement progresses gracefully.

      It is in the Chopin sonata – a late work whose first performance Chopin gave (without the first movement) at his final Paris concert, and a work played for him on his deathbed, two days before he breathed his last – that Bartolomey’s cello takes clear command. This seems surprising in music written by one of the major piano virtuosi of the 19th century, but in fact Chopin wrote this work to keep the instruments balanced in partnership (although the extended first movement, nearly as long as the other three put together, does contain some characteristic Chopin piano runs about two-thirds of the way through). This sonata is somber and intense from the start, the first movement somewhat episodic but very emotional. The second movement, a scherzo, is not light but dramatic; its trio has lovely flow in which the cello leads. The slow and surprisingly short third movement is soulful and longing, really exploring the cello’s emotional side. The finale opens with ebullience and charm, after which songfulness dominates. There is even a dancelike section – which, like everything on this CD, is handled by Bartolomey and his chamber-music partners with great style and a hearty helping of the famed Vienna Philharmonic sound.

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