The Flute Concerto is attractive but the Piano Concerto must not be missed.,
This review is from: Piano Concerto, Flute Concerto (Devreese, Royal Flanders Po) (Audio CD)
Peter Benoit was a Flemish composer born in Flanders in 1864. As a winner of the Belgian Prix de Rome, he spent time in Germany. He also visited Paris where the "Theatre Lyrique" had accepted his opera "Le Roi des Aulnes". In the end, the production did not take place. Benoit returned home where he hoped to found an entirely separate Flemish school of composition. He managed to gather a group of like-minded enthusiasts around him but, according to Wikipedia, he completely failed in his objective because "the school's faith was tied too closely to Benoit's music which was hardly more Flemish than it was French or German". Benoit died in 1901. The most easily found portrait of him, by Jan van Beers, shows a deeply disappointed man.
Romantic Flute Concertos are a rare breed. The only one you are likely to have come across is by Reinecke. (There is, though, I see, a disc of "Belgian Romantic Flute Concertos" available!) Benoit's example is an attractive, lightweight work. It is programmatic but only in so far as each movement is given a descriptive title. The music shows no real individuality and is clearly rooted in early German Romanticism, Weber in particular. The 6 minute first movement, "Preludium: Will-o'-the-Wisps", is built on a thrusting main theme and a lyrical tune first heard on the lower strings and then extended by the soloist. There is no attempt at development but the music is effective and entertaining. The 7 1/2 minute slow movement, "Melancholie", opens with a Weberian chorus of horns intoning the main theme. Before long a pizzicato version of the theme is heard on the strings while the flute plays a wandering cantilena above. A more martial version of the tune heralds a variation in the minor mode and then a return to the opening. The 8 minute finale sees the return of the Will-o'-the-Wisps. Their dance largely consists of skittish trilling material but there is a contrasting lyrical tune and, of course, a dazzling burst of virtuosity for the soloist at the end.
The Flute Concerto, enjoyable as it is, does not prepare you for the splendid Piano Concerto which was premiered at the same concert in Antwerp in 1866. Unlike so many Romantic concertos there is no trace of meretricious virtuosity in the solo part. Indeed, the 13 minute first movement is almost Beethovenian in its seriousness of tone and its concentration of incident. The concerto's programme is more detailed than that of the Flute Concerto but the music is more than strong enough to stand alone. The most important elements in the first movement ("The Ruins of Harelbeke Castle") are the little pizzicato motif heard at the beginning, the ensuing horn fragment in particular, and a more extended melody first heard on the piano at 4 mins 39 secs. There is a substantial cadenza which maintains the mood of this splendidly argued movement.
The ternary 9 1/2 minute slow movement ("Song of The Bard") is not quite so striking but is still impressive. The first section consists of variations on the chorale-like theme heard at the beginning. The passionate middle part is largely dominated by a descending sequential phrase heard on the strings and the piano.
The 6 minute compound time finale ("Fantastic Hunt in the Night") is a Lisztian tour-de-force, vital and exciting. The horn motif at the beginning belongs to the movement's second theme but the first idea is a tune whose accompaniment interacts with the tune itself to give the music the feel of a toccata. At 4 mins 42 secs the horn motif from the first movement enters the fray and before long this blistering movement hurtles to a close.
The disc also includes the overture to "Le Roi des Aulnes". Weber is again an obvious influence in this attractive and melodious, though unremarkable, piece.
Gaby van Riet is outstanding in the Flute Concerto and, if Luc Devos is not the most scintillating of players, he still does a fine job in the Piano Concerto. You need to buy this disc for the sake of that piece. Don't miss it!