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CD Review

Flute Waves

The 14 Berlin Flutists
Dabringhaus & Grimm MDG3081393-2 DDD 60:18
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Also released on Hybrid SACD MDG9061393-6
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This CD just about made me jump up and down with glee. If you like one flute, what could be better than 14 of them? At first glance, this might seem like a silly concept for a classical CD, but there are far sillier ones out there, and flute ensembles are not a new idea, although it is safe to say that few of them go to the same level as the 14 Berlin Flutists do here.

This ensemble dates back to 1996, and is comprised of flutists from Berlin's major orchestras. (Andreas Blau, principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic since 1969, is the ensemble's founder.) Of course there's not a lot of repertoire for 14 flutes, so some of it has had to be commissioned, and the rest of it has been arranged – either by members of the ensemble or by outside arrangers.

Not all flutes are created equal. Most symphony orchestras include the so-called "C flute," but there are smaller flutes (including the piccolo) that play higher, and larger flutes that play lower. From the sound of things, the 14 Berlin Flutists play many different instruments on this CD, although which ones are not specified. Suffice to say that there are low notes rivaling those on your local church organ – it is a rare treat to hear the low flutes chugging along on this CD – and notes so high that it might take a canine to appreciate them fully!

An arrangement works if it doesn't make us wish that we were listening to the original scoring instead. Additionally, it should tell us something that we didn't already know about the music. The arrangements on this CD succeed on both counts. For once, I was really delighted by the Queen of Sheba's arrival, and three excerpts from Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin (Prélude, Menuet, and Rigaudon) sounded so authentic that you would have had a hard time convincing me that Ravel had scored them any other way. Even Henry Mancini's tongue-in-cheek music for "The Pink Panther" movies comes off as a work of substance here. We tend to pigeonhole the flute as a fluttery sort of instrument, well suited to arabesques and twittering and songs of spring. In fact, there's little that the flute can't do or can't express, and when it does find something beyond its scope, apparently all that is needed is for it to find 13 friends, and the problem is solved!

The one original work on this CD is a piece by Siegfried Matthus, who was born in 1934. Des Meeres und der Flöten Wellen (Sea- and Flute-Waves) is a fascinating and effective bit of tone-painting, and a wild exploration of flute timbres. Watch out for the climax – you might have to peel your tweeters off the walls after it is over!

So much fun it might be illegal or unhealthy; Flute Waves is a delight not just for flute fanciers, but for anyone with an ear for the unusual.

Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle