A FLUTE RECITAL. Erich Graf, flute; Ricklen Nobis, piano & harpsichord. Aeolus .
It's not hard to hear Erich Graf these days. In addition to his duties as principal flutist of the Utah Symphony, he will be soloing March 15 with the Wasatch Community Symphony Orchestra and again on May 26 on the Nova Chamber Music Series.This is, however, as far I am aware, his first solo CD, and a fine one it is. Recorded some years ago in Symphony Hall, it features him with his longtime collaborator Ricklen Nobis in music spanning three centuries, from Bach's Suite in C minor to Berio's "Sequenza," with Roussel's "Joueurs de Flute" and Gaubert's Third Sonata thrown in for good measure.
Only in the Bach do things sound a trifle close-up, lending an occasional edginess to the tone. Elsewhere Graf's gold-and-silver Brannen projects pretty much the way it does in concert, its disciplined purity capturing the spikiness as well as the atmosphere of the Roussel vignettes, each dedicated to a well-known flutist.
One of them, as it happens, is Gaubert, whose own sonata gets the deluxe salon treatment, with especially sensitive pianism. By contrast these same players bring a clarity and vitality to the Bach (even if there might have been more ornamentation in the Sarabande) and Graf more than holds his own in the Berio, its unaccompanied 20th-century pyrotechnics being given ample display.
OK notes, though I guess no one could have foreseen the irony of the last line in the pianist's biography: "Mr. Nobis enjoys skiing, hiking, camping and hang-gliding"
TUBA TRACKS. Gene Pokorny, tuba; Roberta Garten & Mary Mottl, pianists. Summit DCD-129 .
It's been nine years since Gene Pokorny served as tuba of the Utah Symphony. Since then he has gone on to posts in St. Louis and Chicago and now makes his recital debut on the above-listed CD.
The results have to be heard to be believed. In the opening Handel sonata (originally for flute) the accompaniment seems overly recessed, as it does through much of this collection. But not because the tuba overwhelms it. Indeed, this is beautifully controlled playing, never harsh or ugly even in the faster sections. Even in Bach's A minor Flute Partita, where the breathing is more noticeable, the sound remains fluid, with some uncommonly artful trills.
More importantly the music always comes through, whether in Vaughan Williams' Six Studies in English Folksong, here hauntingly lovely, or a happily belching "General Lavine - Eccentric" (Debussy), subdued yet characterful.
The same composer's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" provides perhaps the severest test, but it, too, comes off with only minor strain. And although Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" likewise stretches the low register, Pokorny somehow keeps it afloat. But if you want a tuba to sound like a tuba, you'll get that in Arthur Pryor's "The Bluebells of Scotland," with its "Carnival of Venice"-type acrobatics, and the "Serenade" from Jacques Casterede's Sonatine for Bass Saxhorn (of which I wouldn't have minded hearing more).
In all the artist's wit and good humor are as evident as his sensitivity, coming together in Eubie Blake's "Memories of You" for an unexpectedly sentimental encore.
A TABERNACLE ORGAN DUO EXTRAVAGANZA. Robert Cundick & John Longhurst, organists. Argo 430426-2 .
Everyone seemed to get into the act at Robert Cundick's retirement last fall. Now British Decca does its part with a disc of four-hand organ arrangements in which the longtime Tabernacle organist is heard with his colleague John Longhurst in everything from Mozart's F minor Fantasie to Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
The sound is certainly spectacular enough, even if some of the performances strike me as a trifle heavy, for instance Handel's Op. 4, No. 4, Organ Concerto, which lacks the clarity and sparkle others have accustomed us to in this music.
On the other hand the Mozart, on flute stops alone, registers fancifully and the Rachmaninoff "Vocalise" transfers surprisingly well, with every line standing out, yet not without feeling. Another highlight is Cundick's own "Epsom Esq.," whose tongue-in-cheekisms include a burlesque of his own English-style ceremonial music and a slightly tipsy "Pawmenade," with registrations to match. (The subject is the Cundick family dog.)
If you're holding out for the big stuff, however, try the Sousa, which, although a little on the massive side, builds to an enjoyably splashy finish. Ditto the "Farandole" from Bizet's "L'Arlesienne," which may have seemed an add choice but makes for a rousingly contrapuntal conclusion. - William S. Goodfellow