Skarbo's Sérénades features legendary French flutist Michel Debost flanked by two prominent instrumentalists from the Cleveland Orchestra, violinist Takako Masame and violist Lynne Ramsey, in a program of serenades written for the odd combination of flute, violin, and viola. The program consists of three pieces, Beethoven's Serenade in D, Op. 25 (1801), for that combination, and two works of Max Reger inspired by it, his Serenade in D, Op. 77 (1904) and another in G Op. 141 (1915). Beethoven's six-part serenade is written in his strongest late classical bursting-at-the-seams idiom and transcends its top-heavy instrumentation; as with a fair number of Beethoven's pieces published after 1800 but belonging to the classical milieu, one wonders if the composition date might be somewhat earlier, and Beethoven's cataloger Kinsky felt that it dated from about 1795, the timeframe of the Serenade Op. 8. Nevertheless, despite its relative lack of bass support, the Op. 25 Serenade is meatier than many Mozart serenades with broader instrumental forces. This may have been the challenge that brought Max Reger into the domain of this type of trio setting.
In some ways, Reger has not well survived the twentieth century; a stalwart of late Romantic practice, his music is often bursting at the seams itself, but never gives way owing to what seemed to some of his peers an ill-timed conservative outlook. For modern listeners, Reger can be difficult, as he has a tendency to move out of clearly stated melodic territory and into a highly contrapuntal and rather grayish idiom and back, though both of these works are somewhat atypical in that they are rather direct and classical in their attitude; the late Serenade in G Op. 141 even contains some allusions to the French manner, indicating that perhaps Reger's resolve against the modern was beginning to thaw in the final months of his life. Debost, Masame, and Ramsey are expert chamber musicians and the recording, made at Oberlin Conservatory's Warner Hall, is warm and well balanced. One might get a little antsy listening to the thinness of ensemble texture for a full hour, in which case taking a break after the Beethoven ought to do the trick. Overall, a charming and delightful disc that's fairly easy on the ear and very well played.