Robert Aitken

Henry Brant: Music for Massed Flutes

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Henry Brant: Music for Massed Flutes witnesses the long-awaited first issue on CD of the historic 1951 New York Flute Club recording of Brant's masterpiece Angels and Devils, which even CRI did not re-release in the digital era, even as they did so twice on vinyl. This was the first time a flute choir was recorded in a work written for one, and indeed, Brant's Angels and Devils is confirmed now as the first work written for a flute choir of any kind. However, as good as Angels and Devils is, the "filler" by the present-day New York Flute Club under Robert Aitken easily matches, if not exceeds, the main event. Ghosts and Gargoyles was composed by Brant in 2001 as a kind of an "answer" to Angels and Devils, and it is lusciously beautiful and mysterious; ghostly flute voices call from various distances, merged with fragments of Renaissance polychoral music and, at one point, a trap drummer. Mass in Gregorian is just as shimmering, white, ghostly, and awe inspiring, but more minimal -- Gregorian chant motifs swell and diminish in irregular shapes among the flute choir, expanding and contracting pitches as though the chant itself is "breathing." The New York Flute Club recordings are new, digital ones in excellent sound. The much older, monophonic Angels and Devils is restored to a sense of integrity that sounds way better than it did on any LP, and as Angels and Devils is focused toward the center it provides a contrast to the much more widely spread recordings by the New York Flute Club.

Finally there is a flute ensemble disc that's safe for non-flute players, not to mention a searing account of three of the best, and most characteristic, works by Brant, one of the great mavericks among American experimental composers. In this case, "experimental" should not be taken to mean "difficult," there is nothing on this disc that any average listener would find too difficult, and even kids might find something to enjoy in its unique, spooky sense of mystery.

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