breath-flute

01

Apr

2009

Chaminade Concertino Part 2
Written by Alexa Still   

We’ve begun looking at more standard works and exploring what is available from the internet for free. This “How to” column continues from the last issue; we’re referring to a Russian edition of Cecile Chaminade’s Concertino for flute and piano that one can download piano score. We’re continuing from the passage I referred to as the “dazzling middle section”.

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The ‘Leggiero’ marking and ‘a tempo’ are most often taken with a good dose of enthusiasm and can become a bit of a technical exercise in the player’s mindset. Some flutists go so impressively fast here that I get worried for them! I encourage my students to sing through this whole section or wave gestures in the air to try and keep the music in their minds too.

If you go fast enough, many trill fingerings are passable at speed. For instance, that first “C-D-C” triplet is often played by fingering “C” and using the trill key for “D”. This sort of approach is very popular with younger players who are keen to set blistering speeds. In my view, a slightly tamer tempo with the right fingerings is quite attainable and usually sounds more impressive, primarily because the ‘correct’ fingerings tend to be easier to play evenly than fingerings involving trill keys, and at a slightly calmer tempo, the player can concentrate on conveying the charm of the musical gestures through musically appropriate rubato rather than being dominated by the instrument’s mechanics (unevenness of reaching some keys) or acoustic tendencies (some notes boom out more than others).

I would, however, encourage leaving fingers down where possible for stability. For instance, in that same “C-D-C” triplet passage, the middle and ring fingers of the right hand could be left down through to the “E” on the second beat of the next measure. Keeping the flute steady will enhance tone as well as making your flying fingers feel more secure.

This florid stuff comes to an abrupt halt at the trill and then we get the classic flute writing “tweet, tweet, tweet” ballet music. Short staccato notes with a great tone will sound fabulous. The trill is one of those perfect spots for circular breathing – musically this works best and a trill is the perfect texture for covering up the circular breathing ‘bump’. If you don’t circular breath yet, try for marvellous breaths earlier on, and then in the measure before the trill, warn your pianist, take extra time between the first G# and the chromatic run (breath!) and then ease back into tempo over the first three notes of the chromatic run.

For the trill itself, a fp attack and a crescendo near the end of the measure saves air and sounds way better musically than a static note. You can also try sneaking more air after the “C” downbeat of the next measure… you can see this delay is expected by the way the notes are grouped in this edition, but it is very hard to get enough breath in this little gap and we need to hear a solid “C” to resolve the trill before breathing.

The Measure after figure 8, at the “non legato delicamente” marking, is a contradiction in terms – the slur with dots implies a much more sustained note than the staccatos of the measure before. Chaminade was not a flutist! I put more emphasis on the “delicamente” part of that instruction and try to match and blend with the piano for note length and dynamic. On the repeated sections of this part of the piece, I aim for more convincing forte dynamics on the second time around but you could go the other way too.

At Figure 10, we have a run that slows down into the arrival note actually notated that way, an example of the romantic virtuosic pianistic phrasing I discussed in the last issue. Think carefully about how you want the triplet from high “E” to high “A” to be phrased as there are many options!

From here to the cadenza features some very heavy (loud) writing. Try to incorporate some rest time when you practise and use the rest time to assess your body balance and tension. Undoubtedly this will help you project a lot more and the more you try to make these adjustments, the easier it will be to do under pressure.

And finally, we get to the Cadenza, a winning characteristic of this work!

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If you look closely, you’ll see that someone has penned in a very small C# on the ascending arpeggio before the high F# with a pause. I’ve seen this in other editions too, and I also put it back in because the omission just sounds too much like a mistake to my ears. Overall, this cadenza sounds like a study in the difference of character between the major and minor or the bold and declamatory versus the sad and wistful. I visit wide ranging dynamics and colour and enjoy the chance to do so. I always recommend students exploit these moments, especially in an audition situation where it is a great opportunity to show what you can do without worrying about balance issues.

In terms of pacing, I think a cadenza is most successful if it sounds somewhat improvisatory, yet with musical purpose. To decide my strategy, I isolate important musical ideas which are hopefully of a lyrical or thematic nature, and then figure out how to get from one idea to the next. Usually this means the arpeggios or technical passage-work needs to support, lead into or lead away from those ‘important’ musical moments. Not surprisingly, the last two lines of this cadenza are my least favourite bit; a pile of arpeggios and scales with the potential to be quite meaningless! I highlight the “E”, “D#”, “E” at the bottom of the arpeggios and try to link that directly into the “A” by not slowing down too much for the high C#. I don’t dwell long at all on the “A”, and then I try to highlight with tiny tenutos the shift to “A#”, “B” and “C” as notes leading into the C# trill to resolve onto “D”. And suddenly we find ourselves back to the glorious beginning, albeit in a gentler version with the piano dynamic.

I covered all of that material in the last issue, so my remaining comments include a bit about alternative “ossia” passages as we see here 6 measures after figure 15. Sometimes an ossia passage is there because the composer realizes what they’ve written is hard and presenting an alternative is being pragmatic. Sometimes an ossia exists because the flutist performing the premiere preferred and suggested something else. We seldom know for sure, so I choose whatever I think works best for me. In this edition, the Russian word by this ossia passage is literally “or” and both versions are really effective musically!

The measure before figure 16 is a good place to have a think about reassigning the beat (you could start the run earlier…) if it helps you get through the notes more successfully.

Finally, many flutists keep going up to a super High D in the second to last bar, as we see in the piano part. If your audience is seated beyond ‘spit range’, the high note is a very exciting effect and is often applied to romantic works! Chaminade wrote some other gems for flute including Air de Ballet, Op. 30 and Sérénade aux Étoiles, Op 142. If you can take the time to track down her lesser known pieces, I know you’ll enjoy them too.

alexa-still flutist (flautist)Alexa Still records for Koch International Classics and performs concerts internationally. She has just finished an elected term as Chair of the Board of Directors for the National Flute Association (USA) and is now based in Sydney as Head of Flute and Chair of Woodwind at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. You can read, see and hear much more at her website: www.alexastill.com