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Jean-Michel DAMASE (1928-2013)
Scherzo for flute and piano (1957) [4.07]
Trio for flute, oboe and piano (1962) [19.35]
Variations for flute and piano (1985) [11.02]
Quatuor for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano (1992) [15.56]
Duettino for flute and piano (2003) [2.34]
Ransom Wilson (flute)
Jean-Michel Damase (piano)
Jacques Tys (oboe)
Arnaud Leroy (clarinet)
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Suite for solo flute (1962) [12.12]
Divertimento for flute and chamber orchestra (1974) [10:30]
Ransom Wilson (flute)
Orpheus Chamber Ensemble
rec. October 2010, Eglise Pierre Nicole, Paris 15eme (Damase); March 1974, CBS 30th Street Studios, NYC (Françaix)

There are lots in common between Jean-Michel Damase and Jean Françaix – both were pianists-composers who wrote generally light-hearted music that is more accessible than that of many of their contemporaries. Like many 20th century French composers, both wrote a fair number of pieces for wind instruments. It is therefore quite fitting that their works for flute are coupled on this Nimbus album.

Jean-Michel Damase’s musical style was much more tonal than many of his contemporaries, and largely remained so till the end of his life. The pieces featured here span almost half a century. The Scherzo for flute and piano dates from 1957. The Trio for flute, oboe and piano (1962) opens with dissonance between flute and oboe, sounding almost like bi-tonal, but is otherwise light-hearted and mostly diatonic, save for a return of the opening dissonance in the last movement.

The Quartet for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano was written in 1992 specifically for Ransom Wilson. The Variations and the Duetto, though written almost 20 years apart, are very similar in style.

Jean Françaix’s Suite for solo flute from 1962 is in six movements: Caprice; Pavane; Saltarelle; Allemande; Menuet; and Marche. It is an attractive piece of music that I didn’t know before. The Divertimento was written originally for flute and piano in 1953 and dedicated to and premiered by Jean-Pierre Rampal. The 1974 revision heard here, scored for chamber orchestra accompaniment with a revised solo part, was commissioned and premiered by Ransom Wilson.

Ransom Wilson has turned increasingly into conducting in recent years. He was about 59 years old when the Damase recording was made. I am not an expert on flute playing, but to my ears much of his playing in the third octave sounds laboured, and the intonation at the very top is not always immaculate. The Françaix recording from 36 years earlier showcases Ransom Wilson in much more imperious form, with the considerable technical challenges tackled with ease and the overall playing sounding effortless.

Jacques Tys and Arnaud Leroy are both soloists with the Paris Opera and teachers at the Paris Conservatoire. Jacques Tys is one of the last examples of the older French school of oboe playing. His very limited recording output belies an oboist of his stature. In the Trio and the Quartet, however, there are some spots with suspect intonation between the flute and the oboe. Damase was over 80 years old at the time of the recording session, and his playing belies his age.

The English-only booklet contains essays by Ransom Wilson as well as by Julian Haylock, which are highly informative. Detailed bios of the performers are also given.

Damase, Jacques Tys and Arnaud Leroy had appeared on a similar album on Pierre Verany, playing the Trio and the Quartet with a different flutist, who plays some different flute pieces by Damase. Unfortunately I cannot locate my copy of the Pierre Verany CD from my collection for comparison. In terms of repertoire and playing time, this Nimbus album has the edge that additional items by Jean Françaix are included. Overall the repertoire is highly enjoyable, and I would recommend this to those who enjoy the delightful music of Damase and Françaix and simply want a light entertainment.

Wai Kit Leung

Previous review: Dominy Clements



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