Flutist April Clayton is an associate professor of flute at Brigham Young University. She is a former student of Carol Wincenc and Michel Debost, who has an excellent grasp of the French flute tradition and, at age 13, gave the Ibert flute concerto from memory, amazing jurists at the competition at which she played it. Her solo debut for Crystal Records, Flûte Agréable, finds Clayton in good company; key twentieth-century French flute literature with an estimable accompanist in pianist Ju-Ying Song and Philip Lasser's Sonata for flute of 1986, with piano support provided by the composer.
Lasser's Flute Sonata was written in his early twenties during an extended stay in Paris; stylistically it can be said that the Lasser work is "plus français que le Français," that is, more French than the French, even though he is American and now teaches at Juilliard. Deep into the Gallic manner through his residence in the city of light and through his private course of study with Nadia Boulanger's successor Narcís Bonet, Lasser poured all of these stimuli into his early sonata, which by circumstance he then lost; the work had to be reconstituted from sketches and a cassette tape of the premiere performance in order for Max Eschig to publish it. Since then, Lasser's highly sophisticated, technically assured but accessible music has attracted such high-profile classical artists as Zuill Bailey, Gerard Schwarz, Lucy Shelton, and Simone Dinnerstein. Clayton's recording of the piece provides a nice insight to where Lasser got started, and additionally is an agreeable -- no pun intended -- listening experience; melodic, slightly tinctured by jazz harmony and fluidly idiomatic for the flute.
The Dutilleux is early and falls into the camp of works the composer has disavowed, but that doesn't keep plenty of flutists from playing it, as it is graceful, congenial, and in the grand French style that some say disappeared in the wake of World War II. The obvious corrective to that point of view is provided by Jean Françaix's Flute Sonata, which sounds as if composed in the 1930s, but was written in 1996, just one year before its composer died at age 85; this is its first recording. The names of Pierre Sancan and Eugène Bozza might be well-known to you if you are a wind player; the Sancan piece is a standard for the flute and recorded fairly often, whereas the more pointed Bozza work is a little less common; both date -- like the Dutilleux -- from the 1940s. The temporal unanimity of these works, and the related idiom of the pieces in the program that are not so, lends an air of continuity to the whole album that proves a winning strategy. Lasser proves a fine pianist in his own sonata -- something that does not always hold true with composers -- though Ju-Ying Song's soft touch and gracious willingness to yield the floor to the soloist provides an ideal foil for Clayton's gift. Clayton herself plays with assurance, authority, and no small amount of sensitivity, not to mention great tone. In the recording, produced by Max Wilcox at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, the flute pokes through in a few instances with an exceptionally penetrating tone, but otherwise the recording is warm and inviting. Overall, Flûte Agréable is basically everything one would want in a recital of flute music in de manière française and a better than adequate introduction to the talents of April Clayton.