Following on from the publication of her Alto and Bass Flute Method Books recently reviewed here at Flute Journal, low flute specialist Chris Potter has now added to her list of transcriptions for these instruments. Up to now, these have included works by J.S. Bach, Telemann and Brahms. She has also had transcriptions of pieces titled Vocalise by Fauré and Ravel. Now she has brought these together with the better known Vocalise, that by Rachmaninoff, to produce Three Vocalises, one for alto flute and piano, the other for bass flute with piano. Published by Falls House Press, these are lovely, and very welcome, additions to the low flute repertoire.
These pieces have more in common than their titles. Composed around the same time — the Fauré in 1906, the Ravel (full title Vocalise en form de habanera) in 1907 and the Rachmaninoff in 1915, when it appeared as the last of his 14 Songs or 14 Romances, Op. 34 — they also, not surprisingly, share distinctly similar stylistic characteristics, primarily a lovely, fluid melodic line. The wordless format has ensured that these pieces have been adopted not only by vocalists but also by instrumentalists of every kind, particularly the Rachmaninoff which has seen performances by cellists, pianists, clarinetists and saxophonists as well as by fine singers such as Kiri Te Kanawa and Anna Moffo. All three pieces have also attracted flutists, including recordings of the Ravel by Rampal and Pahud, but, so far, low flutes have not had good transcriptions of these pieces available which, with the growing popularity of these instruments, makes these publications most timely.
Viewing the various performances listed here reveals the range of interpretation these pieces can support. Potter’s transcriptions reflect her typically thoughtful approach, not only in her choice of keys, for example — she explains that she has carefully chosen the most idiomatic keys for each transcription — but also in the prefatory notes and performance suggestions she provides, where the impulse to share her expertise finds her dedication to teaching showing through.
My first impulse was to play through the alto flute transcriptions (I do not own a bass). It was immediately evident that these pieces were within my ability — with some work, I am a jazz player, not trained in this repertoire — but, at the same time, well worth the time of a professional performer. The keys are comfortable, the tempi manageable, the instructions pithy (taken, I am sure, from the originals, the Rachmaninoff Lentamente, motto cantabile, the Fauré Adagio, motto tranquillo, the Ravel Presque lent et aver indolence), the melodic lines gorgeous (and refreshingly free of the more recent obsession to change the time signature every 4 measures!)
These are beautifully done transcriptions of gorgeous pieces, immaculately presented and modestly priced. I can’t think of any reason an alto or bass flutist would not have one or other, or both, of these publications in their collection.
Reviewed by Peter Westbrook
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