Jean-Pierre Rampal has a talent somewhat larger than the standard repertoire of the flute, and the happy result of this fact during his career has been a growth in the music available to the instrument, not only in terms of sheer quantity but also in variety and quality. Last year, the Rampal phenomenon as responsible for records that varied from a transcription of Khachaturian's Violin Concerto to a jazz suite with pianist Claude Bolling. Since then, he has continued to explore new territory, as noted briefly below.
IMPROVISATIONS: West Meets East - Album 3. Yehudi Menuhin, violin; Ravi Shankar, sitar; Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute, and others (Angel SFO-37200). The earlier collaborations of Menuhin and Shankar under the "West Meets East" rubric (two best-selling records in the late '60s) made a unique contribution to the listening enjoyment available on records - music that is not like any other and a level of performance that disarmed criticism totally.
Side one of this record continues the Menuhin-Shankar collaboration in the style that is already family. On side two, Rampal performs with harpist Martine Geliot in "The Eastern Dawn," one of Shankar's few compositions exclusively for Western instruments, and with Shankar in an exquisite morning raga. He demonstrates (to nobody's surprise, I imagine) that his flute can interact with Shankar's sitar as intriguingly as Menuhin's violin.
Anyone who is attracted to this record would do well also to investigate a new item in Nonesuch's excellent Explorer Series: Shakuhachi: The Japanese Flute (H-72076), which contains five unaccompanied compositions for that simple but versatile instrument, played with remarkable technique and haunting evocativeness by Kohachiro Miyata.
Japanese music resembles that of India only in that it is strikingly different from the Western classical idioms we know, but this record, like the music of Shankar, offers a good view of some alternatives to our own tradition. Indian music gravitates toward extremes of complexity and offers frequent occasions for dazzling virtuoso display. The best Japanese music, as evidenced by these performances, is like the best Japanese painting - a few simple lines, conveyed with a perfect precision and setting up resonances that stretch outward toward infinity. Also noteworthy on this record is the curious modernity of its effect on Western ears, although the most recent of the five compositions dates fromt he 18th century.
But we were talking about Jean-Pierre Rampal:
FRANCK: Sonata in A. PIERNE: Sonata, Op. 36. Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute; Pierre Barbizet, piano (Odyssey Y-34615). The Franck Sonata is immediately, tantalizingly familiar, yet at the same time unique. It is a transcription (apparently done by the composer) of the Violin Sonata that is one of the greatest works written for that instrument, yet the switch to the flute makes it a strikingly different work. Not necessarily a better one (even with Rampal playing it, the flute does not match the coloristic and expressive resources of the violin), but certainly a landmark in the relatively small range of great music available to the flute. The Pierne Sonata, also transcribed from a violin work, is less familiar and compelling than the Franck but has strong affinities with it in style and structure. In Rampal's superb performance, these two pieces make up an unusual and fascinating record.
VIVALDI: Diverse Concertos and Sonatas. Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute; Pierre Pierlot, oboe; Robert Gendre, violin; Paul Hongne, bassoon; Robert Veyron-Lacroix, harpsichord (Odyssey Y-34614). This is not the year's most unusual Vivaldi record; as far as I'm concerned, that distinction belongs to Angel S-37450, on which "The Four Seasons" is curiously but impressively performed by a Japanese ensemble made up entirely of kotos. But I have not heard any recording of that composer recently that is more beautiful or more satisfying than this one. Rampal has assembled a first-class set of partners, several of whom are solists of international stature in their own right, and they have put together a fascinating exploration of the textures of combined woodwinds in chamber music, with the violin and harpsichord for contrast. Rampal plays in four ensemble selections; the oboe and bassoon each have a solo sonata with continuo accompaniment.
I gave up some time ago the effort to keep track rationally of all the Vivaldi items in my collection, but for those who are still making the effort, the Fanna catalogue numbers of the works on this record are as follows: XII, Nos. 20, 24, 42 and 43; XIV, No. 1 and XVI, No. 6.