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Musical Opinion

Musical Opinion November 2001
Flautist Kathryn Thomas and pianist Richard Shaw, riding on the success of the recent recording of Philippe Gaubert works for Flute and Piano, showcased a rich collection of 20th century French music at the Purcell Room on 21 June.

The subtle key changes and gentle florid passages in Gaubert's 1933 Third Sonata allowed Thomas's rich velvety tone to evoke a French rural landscape, while sharp contrasts and the darker colours of the flute's middle register were captured beautifully in Albert Roussel's Joueurs de flute. A more exacting piece was Boulez's Sonatine which tested both performers' resolve. With moments of agitation, impulsiveness and brooding. Thomas's playing excited the senses and obviously challenged Shaw, so that their co-ordination was stunning.

Thomas's incredible poise produced the most hypnotic and serene playing of the evening with Karl Lenski's Bilitis arrangement, based on Debussy's piano duet Six Epigraphes antiques. Alexandre Delgado's 1992 The Panic Flirt is a richly coloured piece relying on some tricky finger work, but Kathryn Thomas was in total control with her superlative technique. Milhaud's Sonatine was wonderfully conveyed by the duo, while Jolivet's much more disturbing work, Chants de Linos, ended an impressive recital of rare insight.
David Alker

Classic FM Magazine

Philippe Gaubert was a much admired conductor in his day and a virtuoso flautist. This anthology shows his refinement of craftsmanship and freshness of inspiration. Not 'great' music but full of Gallic charm which is well conveyed in these accomplished performances and well recorded.

Pan

Gaubert must surely be considered the great-grandfather of modern flute players, passing on the tradition from Taffanel down through Moyse, so it is good to have a whole CD of his music.

Gaubert, who was a refined flute-player to his marrow, broadened his musical horizons throughout his life as a respected conductor and composer in various genres, and he has left us some lovely music. On this CD, we have three sonatas, the Madrigal (which must be known by most flute-players), Orientale and, with the cello, Trois Aquarelles and Pièce Romantique (here recorded for the first time), all of which you can read about in the excellent booklet notes.

Gaubert's music is lovely to play and to listen to and I am sure he would have approved of the performances on this disc. There is a unanimity of purpose in the ensemble which is very persuasive and I really enjoyed hearing Kathryn Thomas's sympathetic handling of the music and her smooth and warm tone, which never became shrill. One was never aware of technical demands getting in the way of musical demands. A CD to be possessed on all counts.
Dennis Clarke.

 

Musician

If you love flute music the first CD is tailor-made for you. Kathryn THomas is well known as the flautist with the Galliard Ensemble and Richard Shaw is equally well known as a piano accompanist. Between them they give very fine performances of five works by Philippe Gaubert for flute and piano. Kathryn's full lyrical playing is wonderfully matched by Richard's sensitive and expressive accompaniment.

In the last two works, also by Philippe Gaubert - Trois Aquarelles and Pieces Romantiques - the duo is joined by cellist Phoebe Scott. This very rich combination of instruments is one of the highlights of the CD. The energy, lyrcism, and conviction of all three players brings out the very best in these two delightful compositions. All in all, a beautiful CD.
Graham Williams.

The Classical Source

This music is saturated in the elegance and lyrical grace that we recognise as French. Long, sensuous lines are gratefully received by the ears; the heart responds to the deeper vein of expression that French composers are so adept at side-stepping to – an emotional sleight of hand which transforms innocence to something darker, more experienced. A relaxed urbanity informs Gaubert’s music, as charming as a spring day, but there will an aside, a confidence shared, en route.

As for Gaubert himself: he was born in 1879, died in 1941, was a highly regarded flautist (his writing for the instrument is assured and idiomatic) and developed parallel careers as a composer and conductor; as the latter he made a number of recordings including the Second Daphnis Suite with Walter Straram’s Orchestra in 1930 and Saint-Saens’s Second Concerto with Rubinstein in 1939.

The recording is well balanced and truthful ...and the performances are sympathetic and shapely ... the music is worthy of advocacy and it’s good to find these skilled musicians exploring the byways of their repertoire. Flute-fanciers and francophiles needn’t hesitate.

Classical Music On The Web

Phillippe Gaubert, who died in 1941, left an indelible impression on flute playing, particularly in the United States. He was the first major flautist to adopt the open hole standard of playing and many of his students emigrated to the US to take up principal positions with the great American orchestras in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York. To this day, one can still hear the sense of timbre, control and silvery tone which Gaubert taught. Homogenised it may sound, but with tempered use of vibrato it can be often seduce the ears in evocative and poetic ways.

Not surprisingly, his compositions display many of these attributes. These are often works which stand musically apart from the tempestuous politics of the time. The First Sonata, for example, was composed in 1917 - and yet none of the fragility or despondency of a world order on the brink of calamity can be sensed in any of its three movements. The intense poetry of the middle Lent stands next to the optimism and enthusiasm of the outer movements. There is almost no stylistic development from this earliest work and the later sonatas from 1924 and 1933 - the mood is tangentially optimistic and laden with Debussyesque cadences.

If the style is traditionally French - just as Prokofiev's for his flute sonata was authentically Russian - this is not necessarily a drawback. But one encounters the same difficulties listening to this disc in one sitting as one would with the Ysaye violin sonatas - an element of repetitiveness and lack of invention, something one never encounters with the masters of French Impressionism, Debussy and Ravel. Taken as individual works interspersed with something else they are a miraculous tonic for a typically wet London morning.

Fortunately, Kathryn Thomas has a glorious tone - and her sense of the dynamic range of these works is finely attuned. This is particularly so in the Pièce Romantique, more akin to Chausson, but almost orchestral in some of its textures (listen to the flute's entrance after the piano and cello obilgato). Thomas' playing is always relaxed and loose, the sound often rich and reedy. None of the metallic hollowness one can sometimes associate with the steel flute appears evident on this clean and atmospheric recording. Her playing brims with confidence and lustre - and she has fine accompanists in Richard Shaw and Phoebe Scott. This is undoubtedly a beautiful disc - and a beautifully played one.

Performance and Recording **** (four stars out of five)

The Flying Inkpot

It's always a delight to find an album like this one, which presents a collection of rare chamber music for flute and piano, as well as trios for the unusual combination of flute, cello and piano. The Impressionistic influence in his music is nigh unmistakable - Monet's words on this artistic impetus comes to mind:

Try to forget what objects you have before you - a tree, a horse, a field, whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, the exact colour and shape, until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene before you.

Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941; pictured right) will not be a familiar name to many. His claim to fame (if we can use such a phrase) is not, by any stretch of the word, particularly distinctive, even if he was Assistant Conductor of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire from 1904, Chief Conductor in 1919 and Director of Music at the Paris Opéra in 1924 (etcetera etcetera etcetera...) 

But he was well acquainted with his fellow composers of the day and did give a number of premieres, including Fauré's Masques et Bergamasques and also conducted the Requiem at the composer's funeral. Before this, he also enjoyed an expansive career as one of the best-known French flautists, giving a number of first performances of works by his compatriots.

The young British flautist and RAM graduate Kathryn Thomas (left) makes her solo debut on this album, accompanied by Richard Shaw on piano. Phoebe Scott on cello makes up the third member of the group for the trio pieces, which are presented at the end of the disc. If nothing else, one has to commend Ms Thomas and her producers on the decision and selection of such neglected estorica.

The most striking feature from the very first note of the First Sonata is the clarity and sheen of Thomas's timbre: fluid as quicksilver, clear as crystal. Not only that, but she plays with consummate technical mastery and captures the nuances of Gaubert's idiom very well: in her hands (and her piano accompanist), the music takes on a piquant charm of its own, almost an imprimatur.

Richard Shaw provides able support, nowhere more evident than in the Andante of the Second Sonata where his reading is most sensitive. The Third Sonata contains some lovely soundscapes of the Impressionistic style - inward-looking, laden with pathos. Thomas and Shaw are careful not to get too carried away, for there is a certain conscientiousness in their playing. 

The single-movement Madrigal and Orientale - imagine if Respighi were French - serve as mid-point separators between the three flute sonatas and two flute-cello-piano trios, but there is nothing makeweight about the quality of performance. If nothing else, these are delightful miniatures crafted at the hands of blue-blooded evangelists of Gaubert. I had half-expected déjà entendu to set in by this point, but there was none of that.

The Three Watercolours are as introspective as the flute sonatas, yet the addition of the cello greatly expands the musical palette that Gaubert draws upon. And do the trio of musicians here "draw" indeed, first sketching the musical tableaux with much verve and brio in On a Clear Morning, followed by wistful introspection in Autumn evening. The concluding Serenade is sheer delight, with the humourous thematic figures very much understated (even deadpan).

The title work of this album, Pièce Romantique, is the earliest composition (1904) by quite a margin - the next work in chronological order, the Orientale, already dates from 1914 - and it shows. With its tinge of bygone Romanticism, cellist Phoebe Scott imbues the music with some lyrical phrasing. Gaubert's inspired combination of these instruments also provide for some interesting and eloquent contours of timbre.

If there were any complaints to be raised, it would only be in the production of the disc and not the quality of playing - for there are no timings listed for each track. Also, there is virtually no information at all given on each musician in the sleeve booklet; thank goodness for press releases, but the majority of listeners buying this CD on retail who might take an interest in the biographies of these wonderful musicians won't be as fortunate. Still, this is not a major problem, not with such wonderful realisation of Gaubert's music by Thomas and her colleagues. To be honest, one might think that a person could only listen to so much flute-cum-piano music before this combination of sound textures gets wearisome: "to be taken one side at a time", to borrow a phrase from the days of cassettes. Definitely not the case here; there is sheer poetry from A to Z, and one to savour.

BBC Music Magazine

The French flautist and conductor Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) composed in a conservative style owing most to his mentor Fauré. Kathryn Thomas, with beautifully focused if somewhat unvaried tone, leads fluent, assured performances of his mellifluously anodyne flute sonatas and trios. Anthony Burton

The Classical Source

Review of Mozart Flute Concerto In D, Hampstead and Highgate Festival 2008

The Mozart Flute Concerto filled the church with joy. From Kathryn Thomas the often-intricate solo part tripped along with a bright yet mellow tone – much to admire there. Her speeds were quite fast, but with never any sense of being rushed or spat through without regard for eighteenth-century poise. 

Pan

Kathryn Thomas chose a beautiful French programme for her Purcell Room concert.... The programme was meticulously chosen in terms of variety, contrast, period and ambience. The combination of well0known with those lesser known maintained the attention of the audience throughout, as did her use of vibrato, tone and techniques....
The performers opened the concert affirmatively with a beautiful interpretation of Gaubert's famous sonata. Her light and nimble tone fitted the nostalgic mood of the piece. Her playing of the eloquent second movement conveyed the rich and melancholy poetry and her introvert manner of presentation, in this piece, added to the ambience.....
She maintained good control throughout the tessitura of this piece (Roussel), and flawlessly performed several passages that are renowned for their problems of intonation...Kathryn's control of her instrument were pervading....
All were in awe of Kathryn's ability (In Boulez's technically challenging Sonatine) to render this contemporary piece accessible to the audience. Kathryn managed to imbue the piece with an individualised charm which emerged clearly despite the challenges....
The flautist's excellent articulation, nimble fingers and thorough grasp of the two contrasting (in Delgado's Panic Flirt) created much excitement in the audience who were particularly impressed and astounded by the new techniques of tutting, singing while playing, tapping and note-bending..... The flautist's silky tone and relaxed playing of Milhaud's beautiful Sonatine was refreshing... The serious presentation added to the mood, as did her full vibrato.....

Kathryn ended with an encore of Gaubert's Orientale...Kathryn's sensitivity of playing once again demonstrated her natural affinity with the French Romantic repertory.

Seen and Heard

Kathryn Thomas & Richard Shaw: French Flute Recital, Purcell Room, South Bank Centre

Kathryn Thomas has now established herself as one of Britain's foremost young flautists - and this recital was an ideal showcase for her talents as chanteuse and virtuoso. The beauty of tone and phrasing - clearly evident in her recent recording of Gaubert flute pieces - was as impeccable as ever. Notes were meticulously placed (even in the wonderful Boulez Sonatine) and the Debussy Bilitis showed Ms Thomas' ability to spin a web of impressionistic textures that almost hypnotised her audience. It was quite audacious in the purity of its delivery.

If both the Roussel and Gaubert were perhaps a little reserved, her Boulez was a stunning achievement. The rapidity of the dynamics were carved from ice so streamlined was the phrasing - yet there was plenty of room for wit and elegance. If the slow movement of the Gaubert had shown her breath control to appear less than seamless (at times it sounded intrusive) it was a performance which almost rescued the work from obscurity. Alexandre Delgado's The Panic Flirt was rumbustiously played, the improvisatory whispers and chants more refined than I have previously heard in this work.

Pan

A wonderfully varied concert of twentieth century works which demonstrated the wide development of music in this century... Thomas' secure finger technique and French tone were very much at home here [Gaubert sonata no1]... An exciting rendition of the Prokofiev Sonata ... the performance held the audience spellbound. Samuel Barber's Canzone allowed the listeners to enjoy Thomas' smooth legatos and warm sound.

Amazon official review

Like many French composers of his generation, Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) combined a successful career as composer/conductor of opera and ballet, with a regular output of instrumental pieces. Written between 1917 and 1933, all three flute sonatas abound in imaginative touches that enhance their technical fluency and three movement format. The first sonata, dedicated to the memory of his teacher Paul Taffanel, is the most classical in form and emotional range; a restraint offset by the frequent virtuosity of its successor, written for the legandary Marcel Moyse, and the rhapsodic vein of the third sonata, composed for Jean Boulze. While there's all the expected charm and lightness you associate with this medium, there's a nostalgia, even melancholy that are Gaubert's alone. It's these qualities that Kathryn Thomas brings out in her performances, recorded with a forward balance that rightly emphasises emotion as much as elegance. Richard Shaw is a thoughtful accompanist, and cellist Phoebe Scott joins in for the final two pieces, including the Pièce Romantique - ravishing music alone worth the price of the disc.

Personal communication

Engagingly silky playing, serene yet commanding.

Personal communication

"Beautifully played, and the music quite charming"
Lionel Carley, author of the acclaimed 'Frederick Delius: Music, Art and Literature', and advisor to the Delius Trust.

Newbury Festival review

The most perfect technique ... 55 minutes of sheer delight.

MusicWeb International

This is a very interesting, and very enjoyable, collection of French miniatures written within a forty year period between 1889 and 1928. In general the music is for the drawing room and for family entertainment, plus a couple of test-pieces for the annual Paris Conservatoire examinations. 

Saint-Saëns’sRomanceand the flute dances from his operaAscaniomake a delightful start, and set the tone for what is to follow. The former is real music for home consumption, and none the worse for that, and the dances from the opera were designed to give Paul Taffanel,theFrench flautist of the time, a showpiece, which they did and during a performance they had to be repeated!

Fauré’sFantaisieand theMorceau de lecture, together with Enesco’sCantabile and Prestoand Casella’sSicilienne et burlesque, were created for the Paris Conservatoire exams. TheMorceauwas written to be used as a sight-reading exercise. The three exam works are each in two parts, the first slow and the second fast. Despite their origins they are real pieces of music deserving of a place in the concert hall; certainly they transcend the usual fare of examination pieces. Fauré’sVocalise-Étude, like Ravel’sPiece en forme de habanera, was written as a wordless song but it has been appropriated for many different instruments. Because of the “singing” nature of the music it fits woodwind instruments especially well.

Koechlin’sDeux Nocturnes, for flute, horn and piano, are quite dark and not a little disturbed. Schmitt’sScherzo-Pastoraleis more pastoral than scherzo; it’s in a medium tempo and is a delightfully playful thing. There is precious little music by Lili Boulanger, for she died too young, so this new recording of the delectableNocturneis most welcome.

The biggest, and very satisfying, work here if Duruflé’sPrélude, récitative et variationsfor flute, viola and piano. It’s a very serious work, but, despite the mellow and rich sound of the viola, the music never becomes dark even though there are some searching moments, and there’s lots of interplay between the instruments. This is a real find.

The recording is excellent, crisp and clear with a good balance between the players. On the other hand, Kathryn Thomas is recorded too closely and one can hear every breath she takes. This, for me, became annoying after the first few minutes - however, the sound gives a good concert hall perspective.

This small reservation apart I can wholeheartedly recommend this disk for it is a sheer delight.

The Guardian

Matthew Sansom's calming electro-acoustic prelude, muraqabah, made the tone of Dai Fujikura's Poison Mushroom for solo flute and electronics all the more potent. Kathryn Thomas's sharply focused playing conveyed the terror of the Hiroshima bombing, with the pitter-patter of contaminated raindrops and the flute's dying breaths the most potent of all.