What luck to have a disc that takes such obvious care and effort in presenting Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s set of Concerti for Five Flutes that comprise the prolific French composer’s Op. 15. Unlike works such as Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins (cross-reference below), this music has no orchestral accompaniment—indeed, there is no continuo of any kind.
Trying to gather up a quintet of world-class, traverse flautists—while not impossible—would be a miracle of scheduling and significant strain on the production budget. Getting those same musicians to agree upon such key elements as phrasing, ornamentation and order of presentation would likely require months of diplomacy and compromise.
Little wonder, therefore, that in order to get this music into their impressively varied catalogue, Dorian Records engaged Stephen Schultz to literally take matters into his own hands and record all five parts. (Having Brandie Lane at the recording controls was also a wise decision.)
The result is a fascinating demonstration of the current state of Schultz’s art and the long-ago, seldom-heard creativity from a contemporary of J.S. Bach.
Realizing that Concerto No. 1 begins quietly (both in tempo and mood), the jauntiness of the opening “Allegro” from Concerto No. 3 was an excellent place to start. Whether or not the actual recording sessions were in the same order is not disclosed, but the near-unanimous ensemble of the first track and the not-entirely-together opening cadence of the fourth suggests the line-ups were identical (from that point forward the music seldom slips off the rails, achieving an incredible degree of oneness and phrase structure).
Concerto No. 2 lifts off in fine dramatic fashion, the composer frequently pairing the instruments to effective stereophonic effect. At times, the flutes almost come right out of the speakers from left, right and—magically, thanks to Landie’s skill—centre. Following the first unison à cinq, the ensuing “Largo” offers an intriguing balance of edgy dotted rhythms and broad chords, setting the stage for the energy and joy that is expertly tongued into shape for the finale. As is so often the case in live performance, the repeated sections outshine their predecessors.
What could be dubbed “March of the Traverse Flutes” opens Concerto No. 5. Then, a delightfully graceful “Affettuoso,” filled with much melodic interplay and a few echoes, provides a refreshing change from the more common fast-slow-fast format that was the stylistic norm for works such as these. As if to say “I’m not quite finished,” Boismortier takes the middle movement’s theme and further develops its shape, tempo and implications in the closing “Allegro.”
A marvellous coincidence greets the ear in the first movement of Concerto No. 4. The sombre atmosphere features rich harmonic variety and a somewhat rare high register before what sounds to be a note-for-note quotation from the middle frame of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. While unlikely that either man heard the other’s works, it’s ever-so-curious that the Lutheran master’s instrumentation includes two flutes in its title of the same number.
Concerto No. 6—with its brooding aura, harmonic “searchings” and surprises—is a magnificent example of how one artist’s singular vision and sense of purpose can be put into the service of this rarely experienced music. After a zesty question-and-answer dialogue of the first “Allegro,” the invigorating triple metre/triplet passages of the last movement are tossed off with deceptive ease by Schultz over a scale-designed bass-line, making this track another highlight.
For those with the taste for something unusual, this beautifully realized disc will more than satisfy. JWR