Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

James A. Altena
Fanfare, May 2011

While both of these flute recital discs are titled Fantaisie, they have little overlap (only the Fantaisie of Georges Hüe) and correspondingly different underlying concepts. In the case of Mathieu Dufour and Kuang-Hao Huang, the title is a straightforward description of the contents—every work on the album is in the form of a fantasia, whether on an original theme or that of another, more famous composer, and named accordingly. For Mark Sparks and Clinton Adams, by contrast, the title reflects, as Sparks writes, “music’s power to inspire our fantasies, allowing us to imagine other times and places, even transporting us from the mundane to the spiritual realm,” and is simply a collection of pieces that move him in this manner.

Not surprisingly, as one might expect from their professional stature—Dufour is the principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony, Sparks of the St. Louis Symphony—both flutists are superb performers. Dufour has a slightly more soft-grained tone and smoother legato, whereas Sparks tends a bit more toward brilliance of sound, but I don’t have a strong preference for one over the other as instrumentalists. Flute lovers may simply rejoice in an abundance of technical and interpretive riches with both of them. The pianists are likewise able partners who complement their soloists nicely; Kuang-Hao Huang plays with a somewhat more rounded tone and delicate touch, while Clinton Adams has a brighter sonority and more chiseled attack.

The main differences instead are in the repertoire (as previously noted) and the packaging. To deal with the latter first, Dufour has the advantages of a professional commercial release including a booklet with detailed program notes. Sparks by contrast suffers from the limitations of a private issue (courtesy of AAM Recordings) apparently produced on a budget, with no booklet. Instead, the inside front cover of a digipak features three photos and a statement of his thoughts about the music, while the inside back cover has notes on the two performers in minuscule type that unfortunately must be read through the glued-in clear plastic CD tray. Why at least weren’t these two inside covers reversed? Also, the names of the composers and pieces are erratically Anglicized with diacritical marks omitted—e.g., “George Hue” and “Fantasie” rather than Georges Hüe and Fantaisie. (I have corrected those in the header to this review.) Finally, the Fauré Pièce and Berceuse (arranged, along with the Chanson, by English flutist Trevor Wye) are not further identified. The latter is the op. 16 for violin (or cello) and piano; the former I cannot identify with certainty but it appears to be adapted from the op. 73 Thème et Variations for solo piano. The Schumann Romances are performed in the transcription by Jean-Pierre Rampal.

When it comes to the programming, however, my preferences are completely the reverse. Except for Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) and Georges Hüe (1858–1948), the remaining figures represented on his disc—Phillippe Gaubert (1879–1941), Albert Franz Doppler (1821–83), Paul Taffanel (1844–1908), and François Borne (1840–1920)—were not primarily composers but professional flutists who wrote occasional virtuoso showpieces for their own use. Not surprisingly, a difference in quality is readily apparent; the Fauré and Hüe fantasies are far more substantial and interesting pieces than the others, which are ephemerally entertaining displays of pyrotechnics that suffer from a certain sameness when heard one after another. Also, Dufour’s program covers ground that is already well traversed on CD; ArkivMusic presently lists 43 recordings of the Fauré, 14 of the Gaubert, 13 of the Hüe, 22 of the Doppler, nine of the Taffanel, and 26 of the Borne. Still, there is considerable value in gathering these works onto a single CD for collectors of the repertoire, and given that Dufour is the performer one could not expect the superlative performances of them to be bettered.

The recorded sound of the Dufour disc is clear and straightforward; the Sparks is somewhat more reverberant. Dufour is more closely miked, and so one more frequently hears him taking breaths, but not to a degree I find distracting. A sore point with both discs is the stingy timing, with plenty of space left over to fit in a couple more pieces. Flute connoisseurs surely will want both CDs…Highly recommended for both.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, April 2011

Mathieu Dufour, like Klein, a former soloist with the Chicago, offers a flute recital of “fantasies.” One, entitled Hungarian Peasant Fantasie by Doppler, two on operas by Taffanel (“Der Freischutz”) and Borne (“Carmen”) and three original works by Fauré, Hüe and Gaubert (90000 121). Dufour is a fine flutist; he has no technical problems with these pieces, even if he seems to play without much nuance. The Fauré is not as melodious as some of his pieces and the Hüe, at c.8 minutes, is fine. The opera fantasies are great fun. The excellent pianist is Kuang-Hao Huang.

Todd Gorman
American Record Guide, March 2011

the fine performances and coordinated program…recommend this release for your purchase.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, March 2011

Here are six pieces for flute and piano, all but one by French composers, and all titled “Fantaisie.” Yet except for Fauré, I’d have thought that not one of these composers would come up in conversation other than by flutists and flute fanciers. So I suppose I was a bit surprised to find a number of similarly programmed recitals including these composers and pieces reviewed in the Fanfare Archive.

A release covered in Fanfare 23:1 by John Lambert included the Fauré and Gaubert fantasies as well as a piece by Taffanel, though not his Fantaisie. Another CD, reviewed by Paul Ingram in 28:2, did include Taffanel’s Fantaisie as well as Borne’s. Still another disc reviewed by Lambert in 24:3 included both Borne’s and Hüe’s. And the one not-French composer in the mix here, Albert Franz Doppler, had his Fantaisie turn up on a release reviewed by Lambert in 21:5, which also contained the Borne. So it seems that none of these composers and their fantasies are as obscure as I imagined.

Anyone who knows the flute world is sure to recognize the name Mathieu Dufour. He was and is once again principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a post to which he was appointed at the age of 25 by Daniel Barenboim. The “was” happened during the 2010 season, when Dufour left his post in Chicago to join the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a trial basis. The marriage went sour, and he left abruptly, midseason, to return to Chicago where he’d been allowed to retain his post as a kind of dual citizen. The L.A. divorce was nasty, with some regrettable remarks made by Dufour about the Los Angeles orchestra quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times, remarks for which the flutist later apologized, insisting he’d been misquoted.

Kuang-Hao Huang, Dufour’s piano partner on the disc, is a well-known artist in the Chicago area. He pursues an active performing and teaching career, has concertized throughout the U.S. as well as in England, France, China, and South Korea, and collaborates regularly with chamber-music ensembles.

The works on the CD fall into two groups, plus one that falls into neither. The Fauré, Gaubert, and Hüe fantasies are virtuosic contest pieces written for the annual competitive concours examinations held by the Paris Conservatory. The Borne and Taffanel are examples of the popular 19th-century genre of opera paraphrases, which were written in great numbers—many by Liszt—to tunes from well-known operas of the day. The square peg in the round hole is Franz Doppler, both for being of Hungarian birth and for his Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy, which falls into neither of the above categories. The piece is presumed to be based on Hungarian folk melodies, which may have been manufactured by Doppler rather than borrowed from authentic sources. Doppler’s name rang a bell. It was something I’d read before. He was the composer who assisted Liszt in orchestrating some of his works when Liszt was first learning to orchestrate.

The two opera paraphrases are quite dazzling and not insignificant concert works in their own right. Taffanel mines Der Freischütz for gold and finds far more nuggets of the precious metal in Weber’s opera than I ever have. Borne’s Carmen Fantasy is, if anything, even more brilliant, as the “brilliante” in its title promises. Either Borne was the more technically adept flute master and imaginative composer, or Bizet’s music lends itself better to this sort of treatment than does Weber’s. Perhaps both propositions are true.

Exemplary playing in service to unfamiliar and entertaining music combines with excellent recording to make this a most recommendable release.

Ken Smith
Gramophone, March 2011

A German may have invented the modern flute but the French invented its repertoire, introducing a lyrical grace, tonal incandescence and poetic evocativeness that still remain inextricably bound to the instruments today. Mathien Dufour, the principal flautist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has assembled a thematic programme tracing that phenomenon—the product of a stylistic collusion between music-writing flautists and non-flautist composers based mostly at the Paris Conservatory. From Fauré’s much-recorded Fantaisie to the legendary pedagogue Paul Taffanel’s underperformed Fantaisie on Themes from Weber’s Der Freischütz, the results uncover a clear chain of influence, and reveal a musical tradition largely unbroken through the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Dufour, for his part, avoids showy virtuosity. Nor, unlike many players, does he impose on the music a dramatic arch. His performances flow in an even manner, much like the French language, with Dufour making his mark solely through crystalline articulation and a keen attention to timbre. Supremely matched by pianist Kuang-Hao Huang, Dufour’s rendering of Farncoise Borne’s Fantaisie Brilliante in Themes from Bizet’s Carmen is true to the French salon, resisting any urges to be overly operatic or pictorially Spanish.

Bill Gowen
Daily Herald (IL), January 2011

Dufour, the Chicago Symphony Orcheatra’s principal flute, displays his artistry in this collection of musical “fantasias” from six composers, among them Dufour’s French countrymen Gabriel Faure (1845–1924), Phillippe Gaubert (1879–1941) and Francois Borne (1840–1920). Dufour joined the CSO at age 25 at the invitation of former music director Daniel Barenboim. He immediately made his mark as one of the world’s finest orchestral flutists, also building an estimable worldwide solo career.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group