Jeannine Dennis & Philip Amalong

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Storia
Philip Amalong, piano

This is one of those recitals that don't fit easily into any repertoire category, though Amalong's deepest interests, to judge by his program, are with modern-but-in-the-tradition pianism.This is confirmed also by his other (and very fine) recordings as a chamber musician - an anthology of 20th Century flute and piano duos on Eroica, and the captivating trios by Rick Sowash.

This isn't to say that the Bach and Brahms standards here aren't perfectly respectable, but it's when Amalong gets to Ginastera's splendid First Sonata that he really cuts loose. his performance is easily as dynamic as the well-known readings by Adrian Ruiz on Genesis 114 and barbara Nissman on Newport. Amalong is particularly dazzling in the brilliant fast passages, where Eroica's strong, sharply focused sound (much better than the other two recordings) adds excitement. In III, the mysterious, nocturnal adagio, Amalong surprises by playing considerably slower than anyone else I've heard, drawing out Ginastera's study in plangent sonorities to six minutes (Nissman takes 4:27). The trick is to hold the piece together at this extra-slow pace, and Amalong manages to do this - but just. Pyrotechnics in the fast movements notwithstanding, this is actually his most daring and dangerous interpretive gamble.

"Romeo Bids Farewell to Juliet" is from Prokofieff's own transcription of ten numbers from the ballet Romeo and Juliet. This 8-minute andante is almost a conspectus of Prokofieff's inimitable artistry, with its strange mix of angularity, quirkiness, and heartfelt lyricism often conveyed - as in the long, slow coda here - by pitting a steady, march-like staccato accompaniment against soaring, long-lined melodies of unforgettable beauty and tenderness. It has lots of character and nuance here - more than in the too-languid Boris Berman reading on Chandos 8851.

Granados's picturesque and voluptuous "laments. or the Maiden and the Nightingale" from Goyescas seems Victorian, so thickly upholstered, brocaded, and tasseled is it by comparison to Prokofieff. So does Angelo Della Picca's 8-minute Rondo Capriccioso on a theme from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, here in its first recording. Amalong handles all of this richly cascading music with aplomb. Sonics are not as good in the Della Picca (the recital was recorded in two volumes).

A note on the insert explains that putting the CD into your computer's CD-ROM will make available "extended program notes and links." I tried that, and with a certain amount of fiddling I got the computer to bring up some slightly longer annotations. But what I like much better is the cover - an adorable variant of the typical "pianist's hands" photograph so illuminated with love and hope it makes me happy every time I look at it.

- Lehman, American Record Guide, January 2004

Flute Sonatas
Jeannine Dennis, flute/
Philip Amalong, piano

The Lowell Liebermann and Bohuslav Martinu sonatas are (deservedly) played and recorded so much these days that they've established so themselves as classics in the modern flute-and-piano recital literature along with the works in the same genre by Poulenc, Dutilleux, Prokofieff, Hindemith, Piston, and perhaps two or three more. These are polished and sensitive performances, but many flute aficionados will already have several recordings.

It's the less-often-heard items that will make this recital so appealing to most collectors. Suite Paysanne Hongroise is a 13-minute cycle of 14 short folk songs and dances originally set down by Bartok for solo piano and later arranged for flute and piano by Paul Arma, a hungarian-born French composer show studied with Bartok in the 1920s. It's sometimes easy to forget, especially when listening to his stringent string quartets, how skillful and subtle Bartok's handling of more traditional material could be. As in all master composers the harmonies are endlessly inventive yet unforced and compelling in their logic. The songs are lovely and poignant, the dances sprightly and vivacious - a perfect blend of simplicity and sophistication. My guess is that it's only this suite's lack of virtuosic display that has kept flutists form programming it more often.

Also inspired by indigenous melodies, though neoclassi in spirit and form, is Otar Taktakishvili's 1988 Sonata. This delightful and melodious creation, very much in the tradition of such skillful Soviet-era craftsmen as Kabalevsky and Rakov, has rarely appeared on records (the only other one I know is Jeanne Baxtresser on Cala 512) but merits more attention. Outer allegros are bright and playful, the enchanting central cantabile sweetly touching.

Flutist Jeannine Dennis and her accompanist Philip Amalong display an ideal partnership; they play with assurance, intelligence, and complete sympathy with the music. The recording is very clear and immediate.

- Lehman, American Record Guide, January 2004


From the first haunting moments of the first selection I knew that this was going to be an album that would hold my attention and speak with quiet intensity. I was unfamiliar with the work, composer and players, but even without any foreknowledge the quiet intensity grabbed and held me, demanding attention and rewarding the experience with a gripping musicality.

The album begins with Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, a brilliant work in two parts. The work is modern, colorful, and intense. Throughout, it hearkens to The Rite of Spring with the churning piano laying the foundation for the soaring melodies of the flute. The first movement begins with an introspective melody that twice explodes dramatically into a rash of frenetic energy before recapitulating to the original theme at the end. The second movement is short and virtuosic - quickly becoming a staple of the flute literature. That status is certainly deserved, as it is simply a marvelous work, and skillfully executed here.

The next fourteen tracks are selections from Bela Bartók’s "Suite Paysanne Hongroise", which was a result of his study of Hungarian folk music. It was originally written for solo piano. Paul Arma later reset these works for flute and piano, and Dennis and Amalong beautifully and skillfully execute his arrangement here. I readily admit my love for Bartók’s music, but that can cause me to be very critical of poor renditions of his work. Here the five folk songs and nine dances presented are tastefully and credibly executed.

Lowell Lieberman is again explored with his "Soliloquy" for solo flute. Jeannine Dennis explores this poignant piece in appropriate solitude. It is exquisitely lyrical, and after repeated listening ranks at the very top of my personal list for solo flute. I admit to not having heard it performed extensively, but even so it would be hard to believe that it could be better executed.

Next is Otar Taktakishvili’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. The Russian work is in three contrasting movements, and is certainly a wonderful discovery. I was again unfamiliar with both the composer and the work, but the performance here presented has made me want to find more of his work; surely one of the greatest compliments. The second movement is pensive nestled between two relatively energetic selections that allow both musicians to extend themselves. Ms. Dennis and Mr. Amalong carry this off with flair.

Martinu's First Sonata for Flute and Piano is also a work that I was not intimately familiar with, although I had been exposed to it previously in live performances. Here it is fabulously executed, again with the syncopated, serpentine melodies presented with clear, open lyricism. I cannot speak highly enough of the performance. The two musicians are perfectly synchronized and present the composer in the best light humanly possible.

In short, this album has been a wonderful voyage of discovery for me. The works I was familiar with were wrapped in new trappings with the flute taking the lead. However, the majority of the pieces were new to me, and this imposed discovery is one that I am particularly grateful for. The musicianship of the performers is unquestionable, and the selections made are impeccable. The money spent on this album is well worth it as any lover of chamber music will quickly find it to be one of their favorites. I cannot recommend this album more highly.

- Patrick Gary, MusicWeb UK, January 2004


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