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Music for Flute, Harp & Strings

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"Delectably cultivated chamber music...the ensemble play beautifully" (Gramophone)
Gramophone Critics' Choice
Penguin Guide ***
Gramophone Good CD Guide Recommendation

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Critic's Choice

from Gramophone, October 1994 

I confess I had never heard of Jean-Michel Damase until this disc arrived for review, and he is a real find. He was born in the same year as myself (1928) and I am happy to find a real personal affinity with his music, eclectic though it certainly is. He was a highly precocious youngster. Colette wrote poems for him to set to music when he was only ten and the talented young musician studied piano under Cortot and composition under the Henri Busser, who made the arrangement of Adam's Giselle. But as a composer in the 1940s he was left behind by the avant-garde, for his writing has little in common with Messiaen and Boulez and much with Ravel. Indeed the Quintet for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello might almost be an undiscovered piece by that master and if you like Ravel's Introduction and Allegro you will surely find the intimacy of its writing appealingly atmospheric. The melancholy slow movement is quite haunting and in the chirruping finale the composer finds his own individuality. The intimacy of the opening melody of the Sonata for flute and harp is quite ravishing and its Andante has a melancholy charm somewhere between Satie and Poulenc, but it is again in the Scherzo and finale that the composer's own personality asserts itself most strongly.

The Variations on "Early one morning" are introduced on the harp; they are complex and rhapsodic, even kaleidoscopic, and again reveal an individual voice, with the closing romp particularly appealing, leading to a very effective reprise of the famous melody. The Trio, which comes last on the disc but was the first work to be written (in 1946), assimilates influences from Roussel, Poulenc and Ibert, but again it is the whiff of Ravel that makes the idiom so haunting. The first movement is restless without being neurotic, the Andante a lovely muted threnody that is played with great delicacy of feeling here and the finale is typically light-hearted.


The performances are wholly sympathetic and refreshing (Anna Noakes is a superb flautist) with the ensemble playing most sensitive and integrated. The recording, too, is beautifully balanced in a warm acoustic which casts a resonant glow over the players without masking transparency of detail. This will almost certainly be in my next Critics' Choice.


© 1994 Gramophone Magazine


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