A Salon Opera

A Salon Opera
Flauguissimo Duo
Resonus RES10233. 51’03

The period-instrument flute and guitar ensemble Flauguissimo Duo make their recording debut with A Salon Opera, a fascinating programme of works for flute and guitar set at least initially, in early nineteenth-century Vienna. The music reflects the musical life of the home, rather than the concert hall or opera house, although both are represented. The opening piece, Paganini’s elegiac Cantabile in D, sets the intimate salon scene beautifully. Despite possible initial assumptions, this is not background music to salon chit-chat, but music to be listened to. Several of the pieces are arrangements by Flauguissimo Duo (Yu-Wei Hu, flute and Johan Löfving, guitar), including three contrasting pieces by Schubert, reflecting the intimate so-called Viennese ‘Schubertiade evenings’ where the composer would perform many of his works. A guitarist himself, the programme notes suggest that many of Schubert’s pieces were composed using the guitar that hung above his bed.

The focus soon moves to the salons of Paris with Molino’s Notturno II, its second movement Rondo a wonderful invocation of the opera buffa style of the time. The dramatic start to Fernando Sor’s substantial Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart (Op. 9) follows. From Spain, but soon settling in Paris, Sor was known as the ‘Beethoven of the Guitar’, for reasons that are apparent from this solo guitar piece, playing with a fine sense of the contrasting drama and sensitivity by Johan Löfving. Flautist Yu-Wei Hu then takes over the musical reins for Gluck’a Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice. This piece is a good example of the situation where the theme that people hear is not always the one that the composer wrote.  The Flauguissimo Duo’s arrangement keeps the flute line as written by Gluck, with its bar-length held notes, while the melody that we all recognise is actually played by the strings – in this case, of the guitar. Unlike most orchestral performances, the balance of this recording favours the flute, but it does put a focus on Yu-Wei Hu’s elegant and musical playing, here and throughout the recording.

A lively Spanish-inspired guitar Tarantelle by the Austro-Hungarian composer Johann Kasper Mertz leads to the final piece of this European tour with the four movements of the Italian Mauro Giuliani’s operatic Grande Serenade (Op. 82). Moving to Vienna in his youth, Giuliani soon became the leading guitar virtuoso. Despite his Italian roots, this piece seems to be rooted in the tradition of Viennese courtly dances and opera.

The two players of the Flauguissimo Duo play with a fine sensitivity to the style of the period with its subtle use of flexible tempos and rhetorical gestures. The instruments used are appropriate to the age and style of the music, with an eight-keyed flute by Martin Wenner, 2011, after c1790 Grenser, and an original anonymous 1850 French Tribout guitar, restored by James Westbrook. At just over 51 minutes long, I would have liked a couple of additional tracks for solo flute, to balance the two solo guitars pieces. As presented, there is rather too much focus on the guitar. A quarter of the total time is devoted to guitar solos and the programme notes are rather guitar-focussed. A link to the programme notes (only in English) and further information on the recording can be found here. Vidoes of pieces from the CD are on the Flauguissimo Duo website here.