Das Orchester

Viola players are the butt of countless jokes. While these might not always be flattering, remember: the piccolo is far worse off. The instrument is often referred to as the “the symphony orchestra’s AK-47”, a Kalashnikov. Or as the “screaming twig”.

Contrast this to Natalie Schwaabe’s CD which shows the extent to which the piccolo is capable of nuances of colour and expression. The listener is rewarded by experiencing all the artistic differentiations this flutist manages to elicit from the instrument. Even in Levente Gyöngyösi’s sonata, (who was born in Hungary in 1975) from 2007, in which the first and last movement frequently reach the very highest notes, she does so strikingly and rich with staccato that nothing sounds shrill or garish. Everything is tunefully formed.

Natalie Schwaabe has worked with the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio since 1996. Prior to that, she started her orchestral career as principal flutist with the Munich Symphoniker in 1991, before switching to the Munich Radio Orchestra (MRO) in 1993. She has made a name for herself with regards to contemporary music which led to Hans Werner Henze inviting Natalie Schwaabe to his festival in Montepulciano as well as to the Munich Biennale for new Music Theatre.

On this CD she nurtures the music of the 20th and 21st centuries along with pianist Jan Philip Schulze. A grandmaster of modernity is represented by Franco Donatoni, whose solo “Nidi: Due Pezzi” alternates between silent reduction and refined sound action.

Also noteworthy is the “Two and a half piece” by Gert Wilden, born in 1954: at the beginning and the end the piccolo plays within the body of the grand piano, so producing incredible reverberation effects. While Gyöngyösi tracks the Bartók-Kodály folklore, Mike Mower, also known for his work as the director of the BBC and NDR big bands, is interested in the connections between jazziness and Neoclassicism – similar to Bohuslav Martinů. Literary reflections are also represented. “Huit Ilium” of the Norwegian Jan Erik Mikalsen, based on the anti-war novel “Slaughterhouse-Five, Or the Children’s Crusade”, published in 1969, forms an expressive, highly intense solo.

In contrast MRO’s horn player Franz Kanefzky composed “the Pied Piper of Hamelin“ in 2008, an solo instrumental work interspersed with recitations, for Natalie Schwaabe which is ideal for families with children or elderly members. Two years earlier, Derek Charke, born in 1974, created the “Lachrymosa” for solo piccolo, as an appreciation of the Mozart year 2006, especially since the piece alludes to his unfinished requiem. Much like the abrupt breakdown of Mozart’s Lachrymosa, the play audibly loses itself in endless three-note sounds. As with the rat catcher, voice is also used here. Under the register you hear the flutist buzzing – an out-of-this-world lucid closing to a thoroughly exciting CD.

—Marco Ffrei