Sigfrid Karg-Elert is remembered not even for the harmonium music by which he set such store but the reams of organ preludes, fantasies and fugues which lie, often gathering dust, on every organist’s bench. His richly chromatic, densely harmonised idiom, not easily pigeonholed in ‘Romantic’ or ‘Modern’ boxes, and now better known through the music of his contemporary Max Reger, can struggle to find listeners in sacred contexts where the appetite for holy minimalism of the kind purveyed by Lauridsen and Whitacre is at its height. However, Karg-Elert was nothing if not various and industrious (he also made a most successful arrangement of Elgar’s First Symphony for piano), and this album of flute music shows quite a different side to him, perhaps a more appealing one to modern audiences.
As a teenager he learnt to play the flute, oboe and clarinet, and his teachers included no less than Carl Reinecke, composer of the concerto that is still a mainstay of the professional flautist’s romantic repertoire. His output for the instrument includes nothing on the scale of his mighty Second Sonata for harmonium, but 30 solo Caprices show a thoroughgoing understanding of its technical challenges and possibilities – not for nothing are they subtitled ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’ and yet exhibit plenty of the dazzle and sparkle that should draw listening pleasure from non-flautists. The late Sonata for flute and piano could almost be a dream of what Brahms would have done had he written for the instrument in his late, exploratory fashion, whereas the Suite Pointillistique and Impressions Exotiques are more immediately beguiling sets of character pieces.
Perhaps the difference in the character of his output is best illustrated by the Sinfonische Kanzone: this one, Op.114 for flute and piano, is flighty and yet no less harmonically stimulating than the cud-chewing chromatic meanderings of the organ work of the same title, Op.85. The work is performed here with appropriate elan by two Italian musicians who are experienced teachers in their own right.
Sigfried Karg-Elert (1877-1933) is best remembered for his organ works, and more specifically, for the harmonium. His dense, chromatic and complex counterpoint and rich late romantic harmonies put him next to his compatriot Max Reger.
This set contains the complete works for flute solo and flute and piano. His 30 Caprices for solo flute are not only interesting for professional flute players, and the works for flute and piano, notably the substantial Flute Sonata, are masterworks in their genre, showing an original mind and a fine ear for the flute’s lyrical and seductive qualities.
Excellent and compelling performances by two young Italian musicians.
Liner notes in English and Italian.