It seems that the town is full of pipers this week, and Wolf Trap had one of the very best last night at the Meadow Center. French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal played a program of sonatas by Weber, Kuhlau and Franck as well as minor pieces by Beethoven and P.A. Genin. His flute sang, and it sang beautifully.
Rampal's sound has all the warmth of a woodwind. The timbre of his flute is almost indecently sweet for a modern instrument; its vibrato is free and sensuous. The sheer beauty of his tone needs stressing only because the acoustics dulled it somewhat. It always seemed a bit perverse to program chamber music in Wolf Trap, and it seems no less so at the Meadow Center. The amplification added a hollowness to the tone and exaggerated the breathing on the attacks. Curiously, the sound was truer towards the back of the theater. And, of course, the playing was pure joy: Rampal was always happily in tune, his phrasing was intelligent and inspired, his music burst with joy.
Weber's Sonata in C Major, Op. 10b opened at a fast clip and dazzled with its clean divisions and seamless sense of the romantic line. Romanticism was the mood of the evening, in fact, and Kuhlau's Grande Sonate Brillante in E-flat Major, Op. 64, was the evening's passionate climax. Rampal took the allegro with a grand heroic sweep that never seemed to stop, leaning slightly on the first notes of each trill and stealing time with gorgeous sounds. An arrangement of Franck's Violin Sonata in A Major followed, although Rampal claims that it is not a transcription since the composer published it simultaneously with the two string editions. Why quibble? His playing is the best case to be made for this version.
John Steele Ritter was the pianist. At times the pedal and the microphone conspired to veil his music in murk, but his playing remained noble and powerful throughout this grand summer evening.