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GAUBERT: Works for Flute, Vol. 1

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Philippe Gaubert (1879 - 1941)

Complete Works for Flute, Volume 1

Philippe Gaubert was among the most prominent Frenchmusicians of the period between the two world wars. After a distinguishedcareer as flautist with the Paris Opera, he was appointed in 1919, at the ageof forty, to three positions that placed him in the highest echelons of Frenchmusical life: professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire, principalconductor of the Paris Opera, and principal conductor of the Societe desConcerts. As a composer, Gaubert was not an innovator, but he assimilated manyof the innovations of Franck, Ravel and Debussy.

Gaubert's fourteen works for flute and piano have long beenstandard repertoire, but the six chamber works presented here, all ofcomparable quality, have remained obscure. This recording unites them for the firsttime, bracketed by two works for flute and piano. Gaubert himself recorded theopening Madrigal, one of his best-loved pieces, and one that provides asuccinct introduction to the virtues of his several miniatures for the flute:clarity of form, economy of means, and warmth of expression.

Trois aquarelles (Three Watercolours) is the first ofGaubert's trios for flute, cello, and piano. The ebullient, big-boned, D majoropening of Par un clair matin (On a Clear Morning) exploits the full resourcesof the three instruments before subsiding into a serene middle section withimpressionistic washes of colour and mercurial harmonic shifts. Therecapitulation takes an unexpectedly long time to arrive - Gaubert takes us upseveral blind alleys and lands in several wrong keys before finally returning,triumphantly, to D major. The broad expressive arch of Soir d'automne (AutumnEvening) is followed by a Serenade with a tinge of the Middle East about it -and a puckish, throw-away ending. Gaubert penned these pieces under improbablecircumstances, in the trenches of World War I. He served his country withdistinction but was dismissed from active duty because of chronic bronchitis;he was named a chevalier de la Legion d'honneur in 1921.

In Divertissement grec Gaubert improves the irresistiblecombination of flute and harp by incorporating the equally irresistiblesonority of flutes in thirds. I was honoured in this recording to play secondto the Boston Symphony Orchestra's then principal flute, Jacques Zoon, whofamously plays a wooden instrument made in Paris about a century ago. To bettermatch his unique sonority I also used a wooden flute in Divertissement grec.

The classical motif continues with Soir pa?»en (Pagan Dusk).According to Greek mythology Diana (or Artemis), virgin goddess of the moon andof the hunt, fell in love with the mortal shepherd Endymion and petitioned Zeusto preserve his beauty in eternal slumber, thereby preserving her virginity aswell. Albert Samain's poem (see page 6), and Philippe Gaubert's chanson,sensuously set the scene for a moonstruck rendezvous between the goddess andher immortal if ineffectual lover. In dedicating this haunting little gem toone Suzanne Millet, Gaubert appears to have had an ulterior motive: shesubsequently became his first wife.

In Gaubert's first published piece, the Tarentelle forflute, oboe and piano, the 24-year-old composer displays an easy mastery ofcounterpoint, testimony to the rigorous training of the Paris Conservatoire,and his own effortless melodic gift. He dedicates the work ?á mon cher ma?«trePaul Taffanel, professor of flute at the Conservatoire from 1893 until hisdeath in 1908. Throughout his career Taffanel had gathered material for acomprehensive treatise covering the history, theory and practice of the flute.Shortly before his death he entrusted this archive to his favourite pupil,Gaubert, who in 1923 finally completed the project and brought it topublication. To this day the Taffanel & Gaubert Methode compl?¿te de fl??teremains an indispensable guide and inspiration to flautists throughout theworld.

With the Pi?¿ce romantique Gaubert revisits the felicitouscombination of flute, cello and piano. This beautifully sustained lyricaloutpouring shows a considerable advance in compositional technique and securityduring the decade since the publication of Trois aquarelles. It evolves fromtwo themes: the cello's broad, exploratory opening melody is contrasted, abouthalfway through the piece, by a gently rocking tune in 6/8 time, in the purehigh register of the flute. To close the work Gaubert combines the two,fortissimo, in an elegiac and particularly satisfying coda.

Our final chamber piece evokes images found on a pair ofMedailles antiques (Ancient Medallions). Nymphes ?á la fontaine opens withclosely interlocking figuration divided among flute, violin and piano,effectively calling to mind the glitter and splash of a bubbling spring, andreminding us that Gaubert learned a thing or two from his great compatriotsRavel and Debussy. The nymphs are depicted in languid, sensuous violin solos,abetted intermittently by the flute. The piano's proposal of a danse vif isfirst ignored, then taken up by the violin, and finally by the flute, in aplayful, light-footed conclusion.

With the Suite we return to the pairing of flute and piano.This genial confection, like most of the intervening chamber works, evokesexotic subjects in the opening movements before returning to traditionalEuropean models in the Barcarolle and Scherzo-valse. Gaubert dedicated the fourmovements to four of the finest representatives of the French school of fluteplaying: Georges Barr?¿re, Louis Fleury, Marcel Moyse, and Georges Laurent.Three of these enjoyed long and distinguished careers in the United States: Barr?¿reas first flute of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Laurent in the same positionwith the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Moyse as a founding member of theMarlboro School and Festival in Vermont. All three were also dedicated teacherswho together spread the salutary influence of the French school of fluteplaying throughout the United States.


Fenwick Smith

Disc: 1
1 Madrigal
2 Par un clair matin
3 Soir d'automne
4 Serenade
5 Divertissement grec
6 Soir paien
7 Tarentelle
8 Piece romantique
9 Nymphes a la fontaine
10 Danses
11 Invocation (Danse des pretresses)
12 Berceuse orientale
13 Barcarolle
14 Scherzo-valse
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