As more and more artists are turning to authentic period instruments for Romantic-era music, flutist Carlos Bruneel and pianist Jan Michiels make the usual choice of using a modern flute and 1875 Steinway piano for this recording of music by Carl Reinecke. Bruneel's flute has a nice, soft tone that suits the nature of Reinecke's Undine Sonata. Reinecke's most famous work -- and the only one heard regularly -- is based on the legend of the water nymph as told in Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's 1811 novella. Bruneel easily brings out the swirling of the river water and spritely playfulness of Undine, even though he does not use much vibrato, in keeping with the period of the piece, and despite sometimes being in danger of disappearing beneath the sound of the piano (it's not the pianist's fault, rather it's the fault of the recording). The piano, on the other hand, has a drier sound than a more modern piano, which doesn't really suit the sonata. It's great in the capricious second movement, which needs that clarity, but less effective in the more watery scenes. Bruneel and Michiels are compelling in the tempestuous episodes, but the more tender music in the third and fourth movements, while lovely, seems a little underdone in terms of reaching out for the listener's sympathy.
The two have paired Undine with another of Reinecke's works, rather than with another flute sonata by another composer as is usually done. Reinecke was a conservative, and despite his talent as a composer, not much of his music was heard in the 20th century, although his piano chamber music has experienced some renewed interest. The work that Bruneel and Michiels chose is Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (From Cradle to Grave), a cycle of 16 fantasy pieces originally for piano. Shortly after its publication, eight of the pieces were arranged for flute and piano by Ernesto Köhler. Michiels performs the full cycle in its original order, with Bruneel joining in for those pieces arranged by Köhler. The pieces tell the story of a man in all stages of his life, from childhood through going out to work as an adult, courtship, marriage, distinguished older gentleman, and finally in death, a philosophical view of the afterlife. Here, the piano's sound is much less of an issue, and allows each movement to tell a distinct story. The music is not melodically or harmonically adventurous, but the character of every piece does exactly and unmistakably create a picture and capture a phase of life. The choice allows listeners to hear that there may be hidden treasures in Reinecke's output of over 300 works.