Rachel Smith (Flute) & Clare Clements (Piano)
Music by Bach, Ellerby, Fauré, Gaubert, Gershwin, Hahn, Harrington Young, Horovitz, Lewis & Widor
This is a well-produced and presented CD which provides an excellent showcase for the talent of Rachel Smith, the highly respected Principal Flute of the Band of the Coldstream Guards, in London, England. The repertoire is wide and varied, with works from the core French repertoire well represented alongside music by contemporary British composers, a stylish collection of Gershwin tunes arranged by Bill Holcombe and a Victorian piccolo showpiece from the pen of John Harrington Young.
Throughout the programme Rachel is accompanied by Clare Clements, a superb pianist who is at home in all the musical styles and idioms featured on this disc. There is no doubting that the establishment of the Böhm flute as a solo instrument to be taken seriously was almost entirely due to the players and teachers associated with the Paris Conservatoire (and the composers they inspired) in the second half of the 19th century and the music which resulted is still central to the repertoire.
The performance of Fauré’s Morceau de Concours (originally written as an accompanied sight reading piece for the Conservatoire) displays impressive breath control and line shaping – it is not a demanding piece for the fingers but it takes much skill to sustain the very slow tempo as convincingly as this soloist does. Gaubert, a leading French player and teacher, is represented by his charming Berceuse and the most substantial French work on the disc is Widor’s four-movement Suite, which receives an idiomatic and musically aware performance. Reynaldo Hahn’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart is played with poise and elegance and the link between the French school and present-day British music is made by the inclusion of Paul Lewis’s gloriously melodic homage to Debussy – La Fille Aux Cheveux Doré. Martin Ellerby’s Neapolitan Serenade, specially written for Rachel Smith, opens the disc and it is very interesting to hear it accompanied by piano rather than the original wind band version, the overall musical texture having a different sense of transparency and clarity which contrasts with and complements the full version.
Joseph Horovitz is represented by his graceful Arabesque, in which the gently meandering lines are played with a sense of structure and direction and excellent rapport with the piano in the moments of rhythmic flexibility. The Bach/Gounod Ave Maria (in Rachel’s own transcription) displays, like the Fauré, fine breath and tonal colour control and the five Gershwin songs arranged by the American veteran flute and saxophone player Bill Holcombe are idiomatic and rhythmic, with jazz inflections in the playing being tastefully employed to add a little musical spice. The recital ends with John Harrington Young’s The Curly Fifer- a typically Victorian piccolo potpourri of three march tunes, played with panache and intuitive style.
The recorded sound is excellent in terms of balance and detail, although in the first track (the Neapolitan Serenade) the piano sound is rather recessed and the flute forward, impacting (through no fault in the playing) on the dynamic range.
The Hilser Trio – Rachel Smith (Flute), Rachel Firmager (Cello) & Rachel Fryer (Piano)
Music by Damase, Debussy, Duruflé, Fauré, Gaubert & Ravel
Other than the Damase Sonate en Concert the works performed on this CD were all composed between 1887 and 1928 and yet the interpretations express the individual styles and musical language of the other five French composers most convincingly and successfully.
The Damase work opens the recital and immediately establishes the Hilser Trio’s credentials as highly technically able and musically intelligent players, with an excellent sense of ensemble and balance. The wit and lyricism of the Sonata, composed in 1952, are well communicated and there are many moments of spontaneity in the music-making. Gaubert’s Pièce Romantique and Trois Aquarelles are elegantly and tastefully performed, as befits the composer’s skilful combination of Romantic and Impressionistic elements in his writing. As a highly respected and influential flautist, he frequently places the flute at stage centre, although the roles of the cello and piano are far more than just supporting.
Duruflé’s Prélude, Récitatif et Variations of 1928 shows the influence of Fauré at times but also contains moments of almost quasi-improvisatory writing. The cello replaces the original viola in this performance, adding an extra degree of sonority to the musical textures. The remaining three works are arrangements rather than originals, with two transcriptions of songs by Fauré and Debussy providing reflective and poignant moments respectively – the transparency of texture and subtleties of tone colour in Debussy’s Il pleure dans mon Coeur is particularly attractive.
At the centre of the programme is Leonard Salzedo’s arrangement of Ravel’s Sonatine, originally for solo piano, in which the arranger’s substitution of a harp (his own instrument) as the harmonic element reverts to piano. This is very successful in keeping us in mind of the music’s origins, with the flute and cello expanding the tonal and expressive potential – Rachel Smith’s singing and beautifully sustained flute tone doing full justice to Ravel’s melodic lines.
The recording, made in St Luke’s Church, Brighton, has much clarity of detail within a subtle bloom of resonance, adding to what is a very enjoyable listening experience.
During the week in which I reviewed these two CDs I heard Rachel Smith live in a performance of C.P.E. Bach’s D minor Flute Concerto in The Royal Military Chapel (formerly The Guard’s Chapel) accompanied by the excellent Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra – the Corps of Army Music’s only full-time orchestra. Under the baton of Captain David Hammond, the performance had a very good sense of style, with both soloist, strings and harpsichord communicating the transitional Late Baroque/Early Classical idiom most convincingly. Rachel Smith played with great technical control throughout, especially in the fast and furious third movement, with its demanding articulation, and the central slow movement was played with poise, sensitivity and compelling musicianship.
Review by Kenneth Bell
Freelance flutist and former bandmaster of the UK Royal Air Force Central Band, Kenneth studied music at Edinburgh University, with post-graduate studies in Flute and Conducting gaining him further qualifications from the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College of Music.
Mr. Bell is an accomplished flutist, with wide experience of solo and orchestral playing, as well as in orchestral and wind band conducting. A former Chairman of the British Flute Society and the first Musical Director of the National Flute Orchestra, Kenneth now works as a freelance musician and is also much in demand as a flute teacher. He is currently a Music Examiner for Trinity College London.
Rachel Smith and the Hilser Trio Perform Sicilienne by Gabriel Fauré:
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