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September 25, 2015

Best Flute Concertos

The transverse flute (side-blown, in contrast to the recorder) is one of the oldest and most widely used wind instruments. In the Middle Ages (1000-1400) the transverse flute arrived in Germany and France from Asia via the Byzantine Empire. In this period, however, the recorder was by far more popular. In the late 15th c. the flute was taken up by military bands in Europe and in the late 16th c. transverse flutes began to be used in court and theatre music. In the 17th c. flutes also began appearing in chamber ensembles. Flutes in this period varied greatly in size and range. During the Baroque period, the transverse flute was redesigned. It was made in three or four joints with a conical bore from the head joint down. The conical bore design gave the instrument a wider range and a more penetrating sound, without sacrificing the softer, expressive qualities of the instrument. In addition to chamber music, the traverso began to be used in orchestral music, from opera and ballet to concertos. Although the flute became popular as a solo instrument, there were few professional flutists - often oboists acted also as flute players. In 1707, Jacques Martin Hotteterre wrote the first method book on playing the flute, followed by a famous exposition on the flute method by Johann Joachim Quantz in 1752. 

Throughout the rest of the century the interest in flutes increased, peaking in the beginning of the 19th century. This interest also led to the acceptance of flutes in the symphony orchestra. Theobald Boehm began flute making - among other changes, adding keys to the flute. But with the Romantic era, flutes begin to lose favor (except as an instrument for home music) - there are almost no flute concertos written in the later 19th century. The instrument became again more popular in the early 20th century, for example among Impressionistic composers as Debussy. But although the flute was used more prominently in orchestral music, flute concertos remained rare even in the 20th century. The period during which most flute concertos were written was squarely the 18th century, from the Late Baroque to the Classical period.

1. Georg Philipp Telemann, Concerto for Transverse Flute, Strings and Basso Continuo in D Major, TWV 51:D2 (ca. 1716-1725).
It was in Telemann's concertos that, among other instruments, the new transverse flute - soon to be made fashionable by the galant style - first broke free of the soft-spoken confines of chamber music and proved itself capable of dominating an orchestra as solo instrument. Although conforming to the pattern of the Italian church sonata with its four movements in two pairs of slow-fast-slow-fast, Telemann drew on a wide variety of traditions and influences, with a strong whiff of France mixed in. But Telemann was above all a strong experimenter, both in what he asked from his solo instruments, as in his mixing of the colors of the orchestral palette. He eschews the Italian three-movement model of fast-slow-fast, and adheres to the German layout of four movements: slow-fast-slow-fast. The present concerto is fast-paced and allows the soloist ample scope.
Recording listened to: Wilbert Hazelzet, flute, with Musica Antiqua Koln directed by Reinhard Goebel (on authentic instruments) on Archiv (with five Telemann concertos for other wind instruments).

2. Leonardo Leo, Concerto for flute no 2 in G Major (probably after 1725).
Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was a Neapolitan composer in the first place famous for his operas and sacred music, but he has also left an interesting body of instrumental works. As a graduate of the Naples conservatory, his style was founded on a mastery of counterpoint, but in his flute concertos he writes first and for all in the galant style. In early 17th c. Naples, flute music was popular in the mansions of the aristocracy and the city produced many virtuosi as well (often doubling on the flute and oboe). One factor in the popularity of the flute may have been the brief visit Johann Joachim Quantz (see below) made to Naples in 1725. Leo's second concerto starts with a solemn introduction marked "spacious in the French manner," adopting a stately dotted-rhythm after the style of a French overture. The Adagio boasts a highly expressive theme, consisting of a dialogue between flute and solo violin. The finale is delightfully fresh and dance-like. Leo's concerto is typical of the music of Naples, a city where composers were committed to making artifice and difficulty appear natural and simple.
Recording listened to: Enrico di Felice with L'Apotheose on Stradivarius (with other Neapolitan flute concertos).

3. Antonio Vivaldi, Concerto in C Major for Two Flutes, RV 533 (probably 1730s).
Despite the fame of his 6 concertos Opus 10, published in Amsterdam in 1728, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was not a frequent composer for the flute. The two most famous concertos of Op 10, "Storm at Sea" and "The Night" were almost certainly written for the recorder. In fact, the orphanage-conservatoire for girls in Venice where Vivaldi worked, only acquired its first flute teacher, Ignazio Silber, in 1728, so relatively late in Vivaldi's career; and Vivaldi's first known use of the flute occurs in his opera Orlando from 1727. So his RV 533 that I have selected here, must be a late concerto. The fast-paced opening movement has an infectious energy. The slow movement is characterized by gentle simplicity and in the finale the energy returns with the flutes playing a sprightly melody against a rhythmically punchy bass-line. Interesting is the way Vivaldi handles the two flute parts: (1) in dialogue with minimal overlap of phrases, (2) imitating one another, (3) one instrument providing an accompaniment for the other and (4) both playing in parallel thirds or sixths. Vivaldi constantly interchanges these modes to achieve variety.
Recording listened to: Vivaldi Concertos by The Academy of Ancient Music directed by Christopher Hogwood (on authentic instruments) on L'Oiseau-Lyre (with other Vivaldi concertos).

4. Michel Blavet, Flute Concerto in A minor (1745). 
Michel Blavet (1700-68) was the foremost French flute virtuoso in the first half of the 18th c. He had an exciting and brilliant style of playing which was very different from the languorous manner previously dominant on the flute, for example in the works of Hotteterre. Blavet played in the Concert Spirituel and later in the Musique du Roi and at the opera. He also played quartets with Telemann when that composer visited Paris and became friendly with Quantz as well. He later turned down a post at Frederick the Great's court despite the high pay offered him. Blavet's compositions show an Italian influence. For the flute he composed twelve sonatas, six duos and concertos as well as arrangements for teaching. The first and last movement of the present concerto are in Italian style, the middle movement is a pair of French gavottes.
Recording listened to: Andreas Kröper, flute, and the Concertino Notturno Prague (on authentic instruments) on Campion (with concertos by Frederick the Great and Wendling).

5. Johann Joachim Quantz, Concerto for Flute in G Major (QV 5:174, No. 161 (1740-1750).
Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) was a German flutist and composer. He composed 200 flute sonatas and 300 flute concertos, and wrote an important and exhaustive treatise on flute performance (1752). From 1728 he taught King Frederick II of Prussia, an eminent flutist, and moved to the court in Berlin in 1741 after Frederick became King of Prussia. In Berlin, Quantz' duties revolved around the king's private evening concerts, where the repertoire consisted for a large part of works by Quantz and Frederick himself. The Berlin style was characterized by an exceptionally refined use of dynamics and articulation. The heart of the present concerto, one of the best known by Quantz, is the magnificent slow movement, clearly demonstrating the originality and inventiveness of the composer.
Recording listened to: Benedek Csalog, baroque flute, and Aura Musicale directed by Balazs Mate (on authentic instruments) on Hungaroton (with three more flute concertos by Quantz).

6. Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Flute Concerto in D Minor, Wq 22 (possibly around 1747).
Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) was the second (surviving) son of J.S. Bach and is known for his expressive and often turbulent "empfindsamer Stil" or "sensitive style." It is a mannered galant style in which the principles of rhetoric and drama were applied to musical structures. C.P.E. Bach, who was one of the foremost clavier players of Europe (he wrote a famous book on music theory and ethics in 1753), was from 1738 to 1768 in the employment of Frederick the Great in Berlin; from 1768 to 1788 he worked as successor to Telemann as music director in Hamburg. But C.P.E. Bach was not very popular at the Berlin court (proud of his university education, he was frequently seen in intellectual circles and made no concessions in his compositions to make them easier to play for the king) - his salary was only a fraction of that of Quantz or Graun. The first movement of the present concerto, which also exists in a harpsichord version, shows the influence of J.S. Bach, especially in the orchestral introduction. In contrast, the third movement has real Strum und Drang characteristics. Bach has the flute perform a true dialogue with the orchestra, providing a link to the Classical solo concerto.
Recording listened to: Machiko Takahashi with the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra conducted by Roland Kieft on Brilliant Classics.

7. Frederick the Great (Frederick II, King of Prussia), Flute Concerto No. 1 in G Major (possibly 1750s or later)
The German monarch Frederick the Great (1712-1786) was a patron of music as well as a gifted player of the transverse flute and composer. His compositions include 121 flute sonatas and 4 concertos modeled on the works of Johann Joachim Quantz, the German flutist and composer who became one of Frederick's court musicians and who wrote many flute sonatas and concertos for his royal patron. Besides Quantz, the king's court musicians also included C. P. E. Bach (who was the king's accompanist on the harpsichord and who also wrote flute concertos for him), Carl Heinrich Graun and Franz Benda. A meeting with Johann Sebastian Bach in 1747 in Potsdam led to Bach's writing The Musical Offering. Frederick's palace, Sans Souci near Potsdam, became a focus of high-quality music making. King Frederick's own compositions possess a gentle charm, as is especially evident from the Cantabile movement of the present concerto. The concerto is a fusion of early-Classical galant and Italian late-Baroque styles and the fast movements consist of an alternation of tutti ritornellos and solo episodes. It is conservative in keeping strictly to the rules laid down in Quantz' treatise on the flute from 1752, but the second movement shows more individuality.
Recording listened to: Andreas Kröper, flute, and the Concertino Notturno Prague (on authentic instruments) on Campion (with concertos by Frederick the Great and Wendling).

8. Franz Xavier Richter, Flute Concerto in E Minor (probably between 1747 and 1768).
Franz Xavier Richter (1709-89) was an Austro-Moravian violinist and composer, who spent most of his life first in Austria and later in Mannheim and in Strasbourg. Although of an older generation, he belonged to the so-called Mannheim School, known for its pioneering orchestral technique, developed together with the excellent Mannheim court orchestra. Richter did not write in the Storm-and-stress style of his colleagues, but the basic feature of his music was a soft-toned meditativeness, often with a hint of melancholy. His music is always well-balanced. The present flute concerto is a typical example of the transitional forms of the Mannheim composers between the Baroque and Viennese Classicism. It is still based on the traditional ritornello technique of the concerto grosso, but also introduces a new element of orchestral thematic design in its sequences of contrasting motifs - a step towards the thematic dualism of the classical sonata form. Another harbinger of the future is the tripartite design of the outer movements, which would become the sequence of exposition, development and recapitulation of the classical style.
Recording listened to: Robert Dohn with the Slovak Chamber Orchestra conducted by Bohdan Warchal on CPO (with other wind concertos by Richter). 

9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Concerto in G for Flute and Orchestra, K 313 (1777)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) wrote this concerto after receiving a commission to compose three flute concertos and a pair of flute quartets from Ferdinand Dejean, a surgeon with the Dutch East India Company. Mozart met Dejean in Mannheim in October 1777 and was to receive 200 guilders for the works. In the end, however, he didn't complete the commission - he only wrote one original concerto and one quartet (besides reworking the oboe concerto he wrote the previous year for the flute) and received less than half the promised sum. The most substantial fruit of that commission is the present flute concerto, a long and difficult work that starts with a movement of great breath (maestoso) and fine writing for the flute. The Adagio ma non troppo has been called the soul of the concerto, with a melting melodic line that is one of the jewels of Mozart's early maturity. The concerto concludes with a decorous minuet in rondo form.
Recording listened to: Liza Beznosiuk, flute, and The Academy of Ancient Music directed by Christopher Hogwood (on authentic instruments) on L'Oiseau-Lyre.

10. Franz Anton Hoffmeister, Flute Concerto No 24 in D Major (1795).
Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812) was not only a prolific composer, but also a significant music publisher for Mozart and Beethoven. Born in southern Germany, Hoffmeister had come to Vienna to study law, but soon switched to music and by the 1780s had become one of the city's most popular composers. Prominent in Hoffmeister’s extensive oeuvre are works for the flute, including more than 25 concertos as well as chamber works. These works were composed with Vienna’s growing number of amateur musicians in mind, for whom the flute was one of the most favored instruments. The present concerto has a radiant and march-like character, also thanks to the use of trumpets and timpani in the orchestra. It starts with a graceful main theme. The first movement has symphonic dimensions and also calls for virtuosity from the orchestra, for example in the use of a "Mannheim crescendo." Hoffmeister used an alla polacca texture in the slow movement, with the usual strong accent on the downbeat of each bar. The final rondo is full of festive splendor, spotlighting the soloist's virtuosity.
Recording listened to: Bruno Meier, flute, with the Prague Chamber Orchestra on Naxos.

11. Friedrich Witt, Flute Concerto in G Major (1806)
Friedrich Witt (1770–1836) was a German composer who worked most of his life as Kapellmeister for the Prince of Würzburg. He was famous for his operas and the oratorio Der leidende Heiland, but also wrote symphonies, concertos and chamber music. His Symphony in C Major, the Jena, was once wrongly attributed to his exact contemporary Beethoven, with whom (as well as with the later Haydn) Witt shares certain characteristics of the period style. Witt's Flute Concerto is a work that demands considerable virtuosity from the soloist. The substantial orchestra includes trumpets and timpani, and the concerto starts in grand style with an orchestral introduction. After that, the solo flute introduces an elaborate first subject, leading to a second theme and other material offering every chance for technical display. The second movement is a lovely Adagio cantabile, and the concluding Rondo has a lively principal theme.
Recording listened to: Patrick Gallois with the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä on Naxos (with two symphonies by Witt).

12. Saverio Mercadante, Flute Concerto in E Minor No. 2 (1814)
Saverio Mercadante (1895-1870) was an Italian opera composer whose 60 operas today stand rather in the shadow of his contemporaries Donizetti and Bellini, although he was admired by Verdi as groundbreaking composer. Besides operas, Mercadante also wrote sacred music and concertos and chamber music featuring the flute. These last works date from the years 1814 to 1820 and were inspired by fellow conservatoire students and their virtuoso teachers. There are in all seven flute concertos; the one in E Minor (No. 2) is probably the most popular one and includes a sizable orchestra. The concerto is permeated with a rich bel canto lyricism, as if the flute were a singer in one of Mercadante's operas. At the same time, the concerto is a showpiece for the agility of the soloist and the possibilities of the flute. It starts with an Allegro maestoso, very demanding in virtuoso terms, after which follows a breathing space in the short Adagio. The finale is a Rondo russo: Alla giusto and this is indeed a bright and lovely dance with a Russian flavor, a favorite piece among flutists and the highlight of the present concerto.
Recording listened to: Patrick Gallois with the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä on Naxos (with flute concertos No 1 and No 4).

13. Alessandro Rolla, Concerto in D Major for Flute and Orchestra (probably around 1830)
Allessandro Rolla (1757-1841) worked for most of his life in Milan as violin and viola virtuoso, conductor, teacher and composer. In 1808 he became professor at the new Conservatoire of Music in Milan. He is known as the teacher of Paganini, but also left a considerable body of 500 compositions, which were published by music houses all over Europe. The flute concerto is a fine example of an instrumental work written in the first half of the 19th century, when the main attractions for Italians were the voice and the theater. The soloist is treated virtuosically. The Allegro starts with a slow introduction, after which the flute takes up a bright theme. This whole movement has a sprightly atmosphere. The second movement is a short and simple Adagio, after which the concerto concludes with a Rondo variato, which demonstrates great inventiveness.
Recording listened to: Mario Carbotta with the Orchestra da Camera Milano Classica conducted by Massimiliano Caldi on Dynamic (with Concerto for Basset Horn and two symphonies by Rolla).

14. Peter Benoit, Flute Concerto (Symphonic Tale) Op. 43a (1865).
Peter Benoit (1834-1901) was a Belgian (Flemish) composer, who was educated at the Brussels Conservatoire. Although he also worked in Paris, he finally settled in Antwerp where he founded the Royal Flemish Music Conservatory. He concentrated on vocal and choral music on Flemish texts, but was also active as educator, conductor and music administrator. In 1865 Benoit wrote Two Symphonic Tales for piano and orchestra and for flute and orchestra - a turning point in his career, as these would become his last purely instrumental works. Both are large scale, romantic works, inspired by romantic legends from the composer's native region. The Symphonic Tale for flute and orchestra starts with a "Will-O'-The-Wisps" Scherzo vivace, containing two main themes, a nervous and fiery scherzo theme and a more lilting melody. The second movement is a Romance that starts with a horn solo theme, varied by the flute. The finale is again a "Will-O'-The-Wisps" dance, similar to the opening movement. In all, this is a very original concerto.
Recording listened to: Gaby van Riet with the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Frederic Devreese on Naxos (with piano concerto etc.).

15. Carl Reinecke, Flute Concerto Op. 283 (1908)
Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) was an important master from the influential "Leipzig School," which dominated German music in the 19th c. He was a long-standing conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and director of the Leipzig Conservatoire, but also a prolific composer who saw himself as the guardian of the tradition of Mendelssohn and Schumann. The flute concerto was written when he was 84 and starts with a charming, floridly inventive Allegro, a glowing recollection of what was good in previous times. This is followed by an elegiac Lento e mestoso, a piece of both charm and substance, and the concerto concludes with  a fiery polonaise. A lively work that fully displays Reinecke's striking invention, beauty of sound, and mastery of instrumentation.
Recording listened to: Aurèle Nicolet with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur on Philips (with flute concertos by Nielsen and Busoni).

16. Carl Nielsen, Concerto for Flute FS 119 (1926)
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, after which he worked for 16 years as a second violinist in the prestigious Royal Danish Orchestra before - in 1916 - taking up a teaching post at the Royal Academy. He is generally regarded as the greatest Danish composer and was one of the most important pioneers of new music in the early 20th c. His monumentally expressive symphonies derive from a neo-Romantic inspiration. The flute concerto was written after the symphonies, and belongs to a later period in Nielsen's life. It reflects the modernistic trends of the 1920s and lacks tonal stability. The work consists of two movements and the solo instrument dominates the dark colors of the orchestra (which lacks flutes and trumpets). The first movement leads up to a virtuoso double cadenza for flute and clarinet (in this same period, Nielsen also wrote a Clarinet Concerto). Much of this movement resembles chamber music between the flute and various instruments. The second movement is founded on the contrasting expression of allegretto and adagio sections, leading to a march-like finale. The works ends with a series of playful slides on the bass trombone. A very personal statement and possibly the greatest flute concerto ever written - a work of real substance.
Recording listened to: Aurèle Nicolet with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur on Philips (with flute concertos by Reinecke and Busoni).

17. Jacques Ibert, Concerto for Flute (1934)
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), a born and bred Parisian, studied at the Paris Conservatoire and had an active career as conductor and musical administrator, besides being an eclectic composer. His early works for orchestra are in a lush, Impressionistic style, but Ibert also wrote lighthearted, even fluffy works like the present flute concerto. His music is generally festive and gay, tinged with lyricism and gentle humor. Like his other four concertos, the flute concerto was conceived in "chamber" rather than "symphonic" textures, allowing the characteristics of the flute to emerge unimpeded. Ibert strove to find themes appropriate to the sonorous qualities of the flute. The flute concerto is a mercurial three movement work, that became immediately popular on its first performance in 1934. Especially the third movement is very felicitous and just good fun.
Recording listened to: Timothy Hutchins with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit on Decca (with Escales, Pairs, Bacchanale).

[Incorporates some information from the CD booklets, Wikipedia, etc. All images linked from Wikipedia. Some of the recommended CDs may not be available anymore (or the names of the labels may have changed]
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