Jean-Louis Beaumadier Presents Music for Piccolo by Central European Composers
Of all the instruments of the symphony orchestra, the piccolo might seem one of the least likely to possess a treasury of works that would allow a performer to create a full and exciting library of recorded music. Yet Jean-Louis Beaumadier continues to astonish with the sheer variety and excellence of repertoire he brings to his ever-growing collection of recordings. From baroque sonatas, the standard Vivaldi flautino concertos, bravura-styled polkas, 19th century opera duets, and traditional Brazilian music to the challenges of Stockhausen, Donatoni and Ferneyhough, Beaumadier has provided a formidable presence for the piccolo in the sphere of recorded music.
MittelEuropa which is at least Beaumadier‘s fifteenth CD featuring the piccolo, offers a rich feast of original 20th and 21st century piccolo repertoire by composers rooted chiefly in the Czech Republic, but also from Hungary, Slovenia, and Germany. As Lionel Pons remarks in the CD’s liner notes, despite the musicological claims of the disappearance of distinct national styles in the late 20th century, we can still hear in the snatches of modal melody and rhythmic patterns the recurring suggestions of local flavours. Opening this CD we can hear this observation clearly exemplified in the two movements, the Rondino and Furiant, from Erwin Schulhoff’s 1925 four-movement Concertino for Flute, Viola and Contrabass. Here, jaunty, folk-like tunes nimbly stated on the piccolo are counter-balanced by ostinato-type viola and contrabass lines. With this instrumentation, each voice fills out its own sonic territory, while together they create a satisfying and energetic whole and set the stage for what is to follow. The only slight but discernible intonation issues on this CD occur in this piece, notably in the unison passages between the viola and bass, but one could be easily convinced they these have been strategically employed to contribute to the expressively rustic qualities of this folk-inspired music.
Except for one selection, the rest of the CD is devoted to music composed for piccolo and piano, superbly performed by Beaumadier and Jordi Torrent. Czech composer Jan Novak‘s five-movement suite, Marsyas, completed in 1983, far from being a novelty or superficial work, is a mature and significant composition. A masterpiece of melodic invention, integrated with driving virtuosity, it arouses a wide range of emotions. Marsyas, the ill-fated aulos player of Greek mythology, is depicted through impressions rather than narratives, with the use of shimmering colours, rhythm motifs and shifting textures. In the first movement, for example, the juxtaposition of the melodic line with tremolos contributes to the underlying pathos, while in the third movement, extended meanderings of the piccolo in its low register, floating over the hypnotic ostinato-like ripplings of the piano, suggest a distant day-dreaminess. How subtly Beaumadier’s piccolo suddenly and effortlessly merges into a flutter-tongued colouring of the melody, only to dissolve into magical silence! In the second, fourth and fifth movements, melody is frequently interspersed with vivid virtuoso displays. Here both Beaumadier and Torrent, demonstrating marvelous rhythmic clarity with exhilarating precision, are amply able to deliver the emotional qualities of the music well beyond the basic challenges of execution. This performance alone is worth the price of the recording.
Yet there are still more delights to savour. Romanian-Hungarian composer, Levente Gyöngyösi‘s Sonata, composed for Seattle’s Zart Dombourian-Eby in 2009, is another example of excellent repertoire being composed (at last) for the until recently overlooked piccolo. In the first movement, Torrent and Beaumadier are utterly impressive in their clean execution of the dramatic rhythms. Introduced by the piano and then matched by the nimble brightness of the piccolo entry, Beaumadier’s instrument seems to dance in perfect synchronicity with its own staccato interjections between Torrent’s rapid-fire percussive iterations at the top of the piano. This team truly captures both the extreme energy of the outer movements and the langorous mood of the Largo, where the piccolo soliloquy of bird-like calls and downward glissando bends is captivating. Never far removed from the traditional roots of Central Europe, and in the midst of the dazzling technique of the third movement, a folk-like tune arrives and then, as if in a brief nod to the New World, a diabolical, jazzy lick suddenly appears to carry the sonata in an ascending flash to its conclusion.
The earliest work on this CD is the very delicate 1919 Colibri (Hummingbird) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, with its whimsical opening cadenza. This is preceded by a short but important standard of the piccolo soloist’s repertory, Leoš Janáček‘s youthful 1924 work, March of the Blue Boys, (which Janáček used again much later as the basis for his woodwind sextet, Mladi). This is Beaumadier’s second recording of this piccolo staple, now with a slightly slower, but more deliberate and dramatic tempo. This, in addition to Torrent’s greater attention to the piano’s imitation of the piccolo’s rhythmic motif, and Beaumadier’s stylistic growth through his use of crisper articulations, accuracy and sheer ease of delivering the driving rhythmic figures, certainly justifies this second recording.
The one unaccompanied solo included on this disc is Peter Kopač‘s 2006 Sonatina for Solo Piccolo, a three-minute showcase bursting with energy. Just one of a growing treasury of piccolo pieces recently composed by Slovenian composers in a flurry of enthusiasm inspired by the European Piccolo Symposium founder, Matjaž Debeljak, this difficult solo is performed here with Beaumadier’s characteristic grace and clarity of articulation, interspersed with some very dramatic silences.
Despite the piccolo’s unenviable and seemingly incorrigible reputation for shrillness, there is only one moment of this CD that jars: the intentional fortissimo and accented top register attack of both of piano and piccolo that announces the beginning of Jindrich Feld‘s 2005 three-movement Sonatina, the final selection on this recording. Despite the angularity of Feld’s melodic and harmonic material, the Beaumadier/Torrent partnership educes a remarkable tranquility in the central movement. Both the outer Allegro movements involve the rapid and skillful rhythmic dialogue of the two performers, who sometimes succumb to a frenzied note for note exchange, but never without offering Feld’s surprising turns and resolutions.
How fitting it is that Beaumadier should choose to champion Feld’s music, just as his late teacher, Jean-Pierre Rampal had! Rampal, who was to proudly endorse his former student as “the Pagannini of the Piccolo”, was the major leader in carving out a market for recorded solo flute music. It would seem now that Beaumadier is extending the legacy in assembling a serious piccolo music collection of recordings. In his own era, Rampal was outstandingly successful in engaging a far broader listening public in the sound and repertoire of his instrument than just flute-players themselves. However, given the deeply-rooted prejudice that even (and especially) many flutists harbour against the piccolo, the question remains whether the same far-reaching audiences can be reached by Beaumadier’s work. Let us hope that he can for this excellent recording of substantial works deserves wide attention. And subtitled World Piccolo, Volume 1, we are tantalized by the notion of what fine, further offerings are to come.
© 2014, Nancy Nourse
Nancy Nourse is a Canadian educator, composer/arranger and flutist. She has published articles in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, Journal of Curriculum Studies, Canadian Music Educators Journal, Flutist Quarterly, Flute: Journal of the British Flute Society and Flute Focus. Special Interests include aesthetics, feminist issues, the flute in liturgy, learning styles, flute choirs and the history of the piccolo. She plays principal flute of the Richmond Hill Philharmonic Orchestra, alto flute in The International Flute Orchestra and contrabass flute and piccolo in Flute Street, Toronto’s professional flute choir.
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