Emma Murphy

The Division Flute

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The Division Flute Review

by James Manheim

The "flute" involved in this album is a recorder, and the music is from England, which in the late seventeenth century just as now was the instrument's heartland among musical amateurs. The word "division" also has a specific meaning in this context: divisions were short variation sets that would unfold over a ground, one of the repeated bass lines that were absorbed from Italian and Spanish popular music into cultivated practice. These grounds were ubiquitous in Baroque music, from Bach's mighty Chaconne in the Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin to Greensleeves, which appeared here in the form of Green Sleeves to a Ground (track 6). The Division Flute was a publication that appeared in two parts in late seventeenth century England; excerpts from both parts are presented here. Despite the fact that each piece on the album consists of one of these divisions, the music avoids monotony. The variation technique is consistently inventive, and in this connection it would have been nice to learn how much of the ornamentation was added by recorder player Emma Murphy. The accompaniment cycles through various instruments, and some of the pieces in the second part of The Division Flute expand on the basic ground patterns and are otherwise more sophisticated pieces than those in the first part, which were mostly transcribed from violin publications. The booklet notes give a sense of the issues involved in the music, although they're not keyed to the tracklist and are thus a bit hard to follow inasmuch as there are several pieces simply called Division on a Ground. Murphy's tonally secure and engaging recorder playing is the most attractive feature of the entire disc, which offers a useful look into the musical world of the gentlemen amateurs of England in the late seventeenth century.

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