Reviews

GMCD 7345 – Paraphrases Brillantes, Virtuose Operatic Music for Flute and Piano

Miriam Terragni (flute), Catherine Sarasin (piano)

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TIBIA, April 2011

Den geneigten Hörer erwarten 65 Minuten sprudelndes Virtuosentum des
Flöten-Repertoires aus dem 19. Jahrhundert. Zu hören sind Paraphrasen von Opernarien aus Giuseppe Verdis Rigoletto und La Traviata, Charles Gounots Faust, Gioachino Rossfinis La Cenerentola und Georges Bizets Carmen. Die Arrangeure dieser Opernhits waren seinerzeit bekannte Flötisten wie z.B. Wilhelm Popp, Emanuele Krakamp oder François Borne, die sich ihr eigenes Repertoire schrieben und dabei alles einbauten, was gut und schwer war, um ihre eigene Virtuosität unter Beweis zu stellen und das zahlende Publikum vom eigenen künstlerischen Rang zu überzeugen.
Die Flötistin Miriam Terragni und die Pianistin Catherine Sarasin haben beide eine sehr natürliche sympathische Ausstrahlung und agieren in selbstverständlicher Eintracht miteinander. Ohne Energieverlust übertragen sie die hohe Kunst des Belcanto auf ihre Instrumente. Wunderschönes Legato und Messa di voce, elegante Portamenti und Vibrati, spritzige Läufe und spannende Dynamik lassen die technischen Anforderungen zugunsten der dramatischen Musik in den Hintergrund treten. Scheinbar mühelos fliegt die Musik am Fenster des Betrachters vorbei und erfreut das Ohr, ohne dabei zu überanstrengen. Eine Tatsache, zu der die moderaten Tempi beitragen.
In der Ersteinspielung von Joseph Joachim Raffs Deux Paraphrases de Salon d’apres Verdi, op. 70 zeigt sich Catherine Sarasin als vorzügliche Solistin. Der Schweizer Komponist und Pianist Raff (1822-1882) war ein glühender Verehrer Franz Liszts, der sich in dieser Komposition der Popularität der beiden Melodien aus Il Trovatore und La Traviata bediente, um sie in sein eigenes Werk einzubauen.
Nie wirken die bekannten Motive platt oder billig, ganz egal wie oft man sie auf Reisen als Klingelton gehört hat. Diese Aufnahme stellt die Unschuld und unpathetische Schönheit in aller Jungfräulichkeit wieder her, und man möchte gerne mehr von diesem Duo hören.
Inés Zimmermann

Joachim Raff Juli 2010

“Paraphrases Brillantes” – Trovatore et Traviata: Deux Paraphrases de Salon d’aprés Verdi op.70 and seven paraphrases for flute and piano of famous 19th. century operas
This CD is something of a first: Raff shares billing with seven other composers and his name is by far the best known amongst them! It is also unusual because the two Raff pieces in his op.70 set are the only ones on the disc purely for piano, all the rest are for flute and piano.
The Two Salon Paraphrases after Verdi date from 1857, a time when Raff’s star was at last on the rise, albeit slowly. He had just emerged from the shadow of his mentor Liszt, had established himself in Wiesbaden and was starting to gain a name for himself as a serious composer of large scale works; in the same year he completed his Second String Quartet and La fée d’amour, a substantial piece for piano and orchestra. He remained poor, however, and so also carried on writing piano arrangements for the salon of popular operas because these were guaranteed to bring in some money. Although his large body of work in this genre undoubtedly later harmed his hard-won reputation as symphonist of stature, a closer look at these pieces shows that they were all written with consumate skill and craftsmanship. They exhibit the same imagination, idiomatic pianism, artistic flair and attention to detail which he brought to his major works. The paraphrases on Il Trovatore and La Traviata in op.70 are no exception.
The CD’s programme has been carefully planned, with these piano-only pieces coming in the middle of it, preceded by four Italian opera paraphrases and followed by three on French operas. The Raff pair have rather darker timbres than the flute and piano works which surround them. Catherine Sarasin begins Trovatore with an appropriately doom laden, dramatic opening, followed by a hesitant, teasing introduction of Raff’s take on Verdi’s familiar tunes. She brushes off the difficulty of Raff’s never-easy writing with aplomb, pacing the short piece well to subtly build up the tempo and the tension. Although only lasting a little under five minutes, the work is a satisfying artistic whole, no mere potpourri of stitched together tunes, and Sarasin’s performance helps give it that cohesion.
Traviata follows a similar arc. Gloomily foreboding at the beginning, it stutteringly launches into the main material which Raff decorates more than in its companion piece. Verdi’s yearning phrases are well articulated by Sarasin who clearly understands that this is a tragedy after all. She brings to the second half of the work a lilting delicacy which nonetheless has an entirely appropriate tinge of sadness, an effect rather spoilt (by Raff, not Sarasin) at the end with a emphatic chordal finish. As with its companion, Traviata’s five minutes are a very satisfying listen under Sarasin’s fingers.
The rest of the CD is equally delightful. The paraphrases on Rigoletto, Traviata, Cenerentola, Faust, La Juive and Carmen are by the, to me at least, completely unknown Popp, Krakamp, Remusat, Leduc, Gariboldi, Demersseman and Borne, all of whom were apparently well known composer-virtuosi in their day. Miriam Terragni is clearly a virtuoso of the first class. There is a delightful lightness to much of her playing and her technique is staggering, witness the apparent effortlessness with which she treats some of the (literally) breathtakingly long phrases in these pieces. Sarasin is a very sensitive accompanist, taking a supporting role for the most part in this music written by flautists to display their own virtuosity, but shining when she is given a few bars to showcase her own considerable talents. Of the music itself, the most effective pieces are the two that bookend the programme: Wilhem Popp’s Rigoletto Fantasie (his op.335!) and François Borne’s Fantaisie brillante sur Carmen. The former for its shameless hijacking of Verdi to create a vehicle demonstrating Popp’s own astounding virtuosity and Borne’s because it remains truer to the spirit of Bizet’s masterpiece than the other works here. That said, Raff’s 10 minutes show him to be a composer on an altogether higher plane than any of them.
The sound is immediate and warm and Robert Matthew-Walker’s insert notes are properly informative, even if he is faintly sniffy about Raff. In sum, a delightful CD and thoroughly recommendable.
Mark Thomas

MusicWeb International Tuesday July 13th 2010

Nowadays if you miss live performances of a new opera from an established composer there is a good chance that it will be available as a recording, possibly even as a DVD. In the nineteenth century if you missed one or wanted to repeat the experience the alternative was through transcriptions. These could range from a straightforward vocal score – Bernard Shaw was said to have spent many hours playing and singing in this way – by way of a variety of selections and dance arrangements for piano or various instrumental groups, to concert works intended for the professional or gifted amateur performer. This disc consists of nine of the latter, mainly for flute and piano but relieved by two short piano solos by Raff.
Apart from Raff, the names of the composers here are unlikely to be known other than to flautists. Most were indeed not only flautists themselves but wrote large quantities of studies and concert works for the instrument. Popp for instance wrote over six hundred works and Krakamp nearly three hundred, and studies of varying degrees of difficulty by Gariboldi, Popp and Demersseman are familiar to every flautist. They are however less likely to be as familiar with the works on this disc. Certainly like the studies they display all the characteristics of the instrument and test the player’s technique, but what may be less expected is that they are also very imaginative and entertaining as music. This may not be music of great depth or range – mention of the achievements of Liszt is out of place in this context, but it is extremely effective. It is not hard to imagine how well it would be received in a salon or in a small concert hall at the time that it was written.
Fortunately the two players on this disc understand both its qualities and its limitations very well. Both are Swiss, and they have been playing together since 2001. They play with complete rapport, considerable virtuosity where required, and are well balanced, so that the flute does not unrealistically overwhelm the piano. Miriam Terragni has a very beautiful tone, avoiding the excessive vibrato that some better known flautists employ, but with a surprisingly large range of dynamics and articulation. All in all both players do full justice the music and present it to its best advantage.
A quick glance at the titles of the items may suggest an excess of Verdi, and in particular of music based on “La Traviata”. However although both Krakamp and Remusat end their works with “Sempre libera”, their choice of items from the opera is otherwise quite different, whilst Raff’s piano solo is based entirely on a single section of the opera – the ensemble that ends Act 2. The otherwise helpful and full notes by Robert Matthew-Walker do not identify on which sections of each opera the various works are based but this is of minor importance. As a whole, this is an extremely entertaining disc likely to have appeal for many more than merely flautists and opera lovers.
John Sheppard