About this Recording
8.557305 - GAUBERT: Works for Flute, Vol. 1
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Philippe Gaubert (1879 - 1941)

Philippe Gaubert (1879 - 1941)

Complete Works for Flute, Volume 1


Philippe Gaubert was among the most prominent French musicians of the period between the two world wars. After a distinguished career as flautist with the Paris Opéra, he was appointed in 1919, at the age of forty, to three positions that placed him in the highest échelons of French musical life: professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire, principal conductor of the Paris Opéra, and principal conductor of the Société des Concerts. As a composer, Gaubert was not an innovator, but he assimilated many of the innovations of Franck, Ravel and Debussy.


Gaubert’s fourteen works for flute and piano have long been standard repertoire, but the six chamber works presented here, all of comparable quality, have remained obscure. This recording unites them for the first time, bracketed by two works for flute and piano. Gaubert himself recorded the opening Madrigal, one of his best-loved pieces, and one that provides a succinct 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 of Gaubert’s trios for flute, cello, and piano. The ebullient, big-boned, D major opening of Par un clair matin (On a Clear Morning) exploits the full resources of the three instruments before subsiding into a serene middle section with impressionistic washes of colour and mercurial harmonic shifts. The recapitulation takes an unexpectedly long time to arrive – Gaubert takes us up several blind alleys and lands in several wrong keys before finally returning, triumphantly, to D major. The broad expressive arch of Soir d’automne (Autumn Evening) is followed by a Sérénade with a tinge of the Middle East about it – and a puckish, throw-away ending. Gaubert penned these pieces under improbable circumstances, in the trenches of World War I. He served his country with distinction but was dismissed from active duty because of chronic bronchitis; he was named a chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1921.


In Divertissement grec Gaubert improves the irresistible combination of flute and harp by incorporating the equally irresistible sonority of flutes in thirds. I was honoured in this recording to play second to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s then principal flute, Jacques Zoon, who famously plays a wooden instrument made in Paris about a century ago. To better match his unique sonority I also used a wooden flute in Divertissement grec.


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


In Gaubert’s first published piece, the Tarentelle for flute, oboe and piano, the 24-year-old composer displays an easy mastery of counterpoint, testimony to the rigorous training of the Paris Conservatoire, and his own effortless melodic gift. He dedicates the work à mon cher maître Paul Taffanel, professor of flute at the Conservatoire from 1893 until his death in 1908. Throughout his career Taffanel had gathered material for a comprehensive 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 to publication. To this day the Taffanel & Gaubert Méthode complète de flûte remains an indispensable guide and inspiration to flautists throughout the world.


With the Pièce romantique Gaubert revisits the felicitous combination of flute, cello and piano. This beautifully sustained lyrical outpouring shows a considerable advance in compositional technique and security during the decade since the publication of Trois aquarelles. It evolves from two themes: the cello’s broad, exploratory opening melody is contrasted, about halfway through the piece, by a gently rocking tune in 6/8 time, in the pure high 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 of Médailles antiques (Ancient Medallions). Nymphes à la fontaine opens with closely interlocking figuration divided among flute, violin and piano, effectively calling to mind the glitter and splash of a bubbling spring, and reminding us that Gaubert learned a thing or two from his great compatriots Ravel and Debussy. The nymphs are depicted in languid, sensuous violin solos, abetted intermittently by the flute. The piano’s proposal of a danse vif is first ignored, then taken up by the violin, and finally by the flute, in a playful, 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, evokes exotic subjects in the opening movements before returning to traditional European models in the Barcarolle and Scherzo-valse. Gaubert dedicated the four movements to four of the finest representatives of the French school of flute playing: Georges Barrère, Louis Fleury, Marcel Moyse, and Georges Laurent. Three of these enjoyed long and distinguished careers in the United States: Barrère as first flute of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Laurent in the same position with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Moyse as a founding member of the Marlboro School and Festival in Vermont. All three were also dedicated teachers who together spread the salutary influence of the French school of flute playing throughout the United States.


Fenwick Smith

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