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CD Review

Music For Flute And Percussion

  • Ástor Piazzolla: The History of the Tango
  • Michel Lysight: Initiation
  • Alec Wilder: Flute and Bongos #1
  • Frederic Devreese: Butterfly
  • Keiko Abe: Wind in the Bamboo Grove
  • Karen Young: Ode to Nature: Migrating Monarchs
  • Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel
  • Ravi Shankar: Raga "The Enchanted Morning"
Marc Grauwels, flutes
Marie-José Simard, percussion
Naxos 8.557782 DDD 71:47
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The combination of flute and percussion probably stimulates atavistic feelings in modern listeners: did our distant ancestors not sit around a fire, listening to someone blow into an instrument made of reeds while someone else beat on a drum? The music on this CD is more refined than that, obviously, but no matter how much you dress them up, works for flute and percussion tap into a very old (and very powerful) region of our collective consciousness.

Grauwels is a Belgian flutist who studied with both Rampal and Galway, and who has made a series of outstanding discs for Naxos. Simard is a French-Canadian by birth, and the province of Québec continues to be her home. They have performed together for two decades, and many of the works on this CD – the Lysight, the Devreese, and the Young – are dedicated to them. (Piazzolla dedicated his work, originally scored for flute and guitar, to Grauwels.)

The longest works are those by Piazzolla and Shankar, and they serve as bookends to this excellent CD. The History of the Tango is just that: a four-movement travelogue which follows the tango from a bordello in 1900, to a café in 1930, a night club in 1960, and finally to a modern concert venue. As the inventor of the so-called tango nuevo, Piazzolla knew the dance more intimately than anyone else, although not everyone approved of his introduction of "highbrow" jazz and classical elements into the genre. This History is essentially a classical work, and gives the lie to those who still believe that Piazzolla was "just" a popular composer. (He studied with Nadia Boulanger in the 1950s, after all.) As Piazzolla was the master of the bandoneon (a relative of the accordion), Ravi Shankar is the master of the sitar. The Enchanted Morning, however, originally was written for the flute of Jean-Pierre Rampal and for harp. It is fascinating to note how much the character of Shankar's music seems to change in the absence of the sitar. I think most listeners would be hard-pressed to identify this is as Indian music.

The intervening pieces are shorter, and two in particular are worth mentioning, although all are enjoyable. Alec Wilder, one of the great American composers of songs which balance gracefully on the border between art and pop, also composed non-vocal music. Frank Sinatra believed in Wilder's music so much that he conducted an album of it for Columbia Records in 1945. Flute and Bongos #1 is very engaging, and a complete surprise from the composer of songs such as "I'll Be Around" and "While We're Young." Arvo Pärt, in contrast, is the Estonian composer of music which sometimes has been classified as "spiritual Minimalism" – when ECM Records released Fratres in the mid 1980s, the result was no less than a quiet revolution. Spiegel im Spiegel, originally written for violin and piano, takes on a whole new character when it is played by alto flute and marimba.

It's hard to think bad or distressed thoughts while listening to this CD. The music is teasingly interesting, and the timbres land on the ear like so many butterflies. We know we're in good hands with Grauwels and Simard. In their interplay and communication, one can readily hear why their partnership has endured for two decades. Beautiful engineering too. Grauwels wrote the program notes.

Copyright © 2005, Raymond Tuttle