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Bewitchingly Improvisatory

Rachel Brown's
'A Tribute to Bach' -
recommended by

'... Rachel Brown has enough talent, in her littlest finger, to lift an entire orchestra ...'

A Tribute to Bach: Bach Flute Sonatas and Arias. Rachel Brown, flute. © 2015 Uppernote Recordings

Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.Shakespeare, from Hamlet

Back when I was spending about a decade of my life mostly playing classical period music on authentic instruments, the period instrument orchestra I was in used to tour a lot, America in particular. (And yes, it was very cool playing in Carnegie Hall.)

However, we often played in less exalted places, sometimes even godforsaken places — and yes, I am thinking Detroit — and sometimes in these places, on a rainy day, when my cello felt heavy, I'd be sitting with a friend in a coffee place thinking, 'Why am I here?' Then the rehearsal would start and then the principal flute, Rachel Brown, would play something — sometimes just a single phrase, in the middle of some Haydn symphony or similar — and my entire mood would lift. And I would think then, which I think still, that Rachel Brown has enough talent, in her littlest finger, to lift an entire orchestra ... In short, she has long been my absolute favourite flute player and I bought this CD the second I heard about it.

So: why is she so good?

Because even her fleetest playing possesses a marvellously lifted poise, while her instinct about when to put that individual 'bloom' on a note never fails her. Also, because she was born with the happy knack of pitching on the perfect tempo, effortlessly, while her phrasing — which always sounds so simple — betrays to the trained ear the mark of a dedicated and thoughtful mind. Perhaps most crucially, with Rachel Brown, nothing is remotely pretentious: she possesses an artlessness procurable only by exercise of the very highest art. Finally, whichever flute she might be playing, she has an uncanny knack of visualising its fullest potential, while she last played a note out of tune in August 1981, when ill with a heavy head cold (it was an 'F' and the memory still pains her ...)

(Sorry, bad joke. Rachel Brown has never played a note out of tune ...)

As for this two-CD set, it comprises Bach's concerto and sonatas for the instrument, as well as the solo Partita and — wonderful bonus — several cantata movements featuring the flute, and even a short but eloquent encore.

Particular highlights for me are here (a very personal selection — in no special order):

1) The entire solo Partita, BWV 1013. Possibly the single most impressive achievement of the two CDs, as the range of tone colours conjured up by a mere wind instrument (sorry to be 'stringest' here!) was amazing, while Brown's phrasing and line could be studied, to advantage, by any string player essaying either the violin partitas or cello suites.

In fact, the Sarabande alone was so bewitchingly improvisatory that, the first time I heard it, I had to listen to it three times. Such effortlessly organic ornamentation, the sense at times mournful, at times utterly spiritual, and all from a single flute!

Listen — J S Bach: Sarabande (Partita, BWV 1013)
(CD1 track 8, 0:00-1:11) © 2015 Rachel Brown :

2) The concerto (BWV 1056) works beautifully in Brown's typically unfussy arrangement: the loveliest performance that I've ever heard, personally.

Listen — J S Bach arranged Brown: Presto (Flute Concerto, BWV 1056)
(CD2 track 9, 0:00-0:57) © 2015 Rachel Brown :

3) The whole of the Sonata BWV 1034: one of my favourite Bach sonatas in the repertoire. Kath Sharman (cello) produces a sense of rediscovery in the chromatic lines, interwoven with Brown's flute. Also, in the Andante: the flute enters so quietly that one can't quite tell where it happens — in fact, what a divine movement it is here, altogether! — brought to a satisfying culmination thanks to the pugnacious contrapuntal power of the final Allegro. (Lawrence Cummings sensitively matches Brown here as elsewhere; his is an unobtrusive genius.)

Listen — J S Bach: Allegro (Sonata, BWV 1034)
(CD2 track 5, 0:00-1:111 © 2015 Rachel Brown :

4) The cantata movements:

In Cantata BWV 115, soprano Elizabeth Cragg weaves a clear and satiny voice delicately between Brown's flute and Kath Sharman's elegant cello, while in BWV 82a she is wonderfully responsive to Brown's tone colours. In Cantata BWV 8, Peter Harvey (baritone) displays an immaculate technique and fabulous warmth of tone, pointed up brilliantly by Brown's roulades, while the tenor Charles Daniel is a sweet-toned and thoughtful soloist in BWV 180.

Listen — J S Bach: Ermuntre dich, dein Heiland klopft (BWV 180)
(CD2 track 6, 3:18-4:39) © 2015 Rachel Brown :

This beautifully produced and intelligently annoted double CD set is most highly recommended.

Copyright © 13 March 2016 Alice McVeigh,
Kent UK









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