At Longy last Tuesday, Sergio Pallottelli delivered a compelling wood-flute sound in his flute and piano versions of Beethoven’s Op.12, No. 2, and Brahms’s Sonata in D Minor (both for Violin and Piano), as well as a pleasing CPE Bach Sonata for Flute and Keyboard (repurposed for harp), plus a charming morceaux by Gaubert. Pallottelli, a recent addition to the Longy faculty, and an indefatigable and esteemed performer, champions and develops adaptations of many genres for flute.
Do our aural prejudices influence judgment about a given work when transcribed for other instruments? A priori, the heft of a vibrating, modulating melody played on a violin sounds more substantial than the less expansive flute, despite its pure line. Or, as Tom Hancox wrote in Bachtrack in a 2011 review of an Emmanuel Pahud and Yefim Bronfman concert at Wigmore Hall that featured such adaptations, “there is only so much a flute can do.” Au contraire, one might argue that our prejudices prevent appreciation of novel musical pairings. And we learn a lot about a piece by the theme and variations being the instruments, not the notes.
In this concert the featured flutist and the notable young pianist Eri Nakamura first played the early Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 12 No. 2, dedicated to Salieri, and arranged for flute and piano by Pallottelli. According to the flutist, he did not need to change the piano parts much, nor introduce many changes to the original violin lines. “I had to go up (an) octave a few times, and eliminate a few double stops, though for a lot of them, I played them as rolled chords.” The sonata sits well as reworked. The opening Allegro vivace provided a sprightly interplay between the two instruments. That first movement, often criticized as musically meagre, is jocular and light, and Pallottelli’s sound and Nakamura’s light touch fit it perfectly. In the Andante più tosto allegretto, the duo reflected the composition lyrical yet pensive sadness well. The Allegro piacevole humor conveyed the high-spirited mood.
The sonata for violin(flute) and keyboard, attributed to CPE Bach, enchanted on harp (Franziska Huhn) and flute. Whether actually written by CPE or Johann Sebastian—or by a non-Bach, or whether intended for flute and clavichord or some other continuo matters less than its light, uplifting effect. Pallottelli’s Pan together with Huhn’s angelic rendering achieved a pinnacle.
Phillippe Gaubert’s 1922 Suite for Flute and Piano presents four short charming musical portraits, each dedicated to a contemporary flutist. Unlike the rest of the evening’s choices, the Gaubert is not a transcription, but has, until recently, been overlooked, perhaps, as speculation goes, because it is relatively non bravura. Invocations sounded understated and beyond gentle. They rendered the Berceuse Orientale, a sweet lullaby, tenderly; the Barcarolle, evoked a gentle sea; and the Scherzo-valse, transfixed us with grace.
The Brahms sonata refitted for flute poses a challenge for the listener, no matter how well the flutist performs. Can pitting flute against the heft of a Brahmsian violin timbre ever lead to a fair comparison? One needs to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy this version. Nakamura is a thoughtful pianist, collaborated with sensitivity and took care in creating as much balance as possible. Yet, the flute, even played impeccably, simply does not have the interpretive depth to partner as Brahms likely intended, but Pallottelli’s version lends a lighter hue to the melodies and lines of the work.
Pallottelli is an articulate and insightful speaker and “translator” whose innovative, wide-ranging repertoire fully engages. We are fortunate to have him our midst.