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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Carl Maria von Weber - Chamber Music for Flute (Kazunori Seo)


Composer: Carl Maria von Weber
  • (01) Flute Sonata in A flat major, Op. 39, J. 199
  • (05) Grand Duo Concertant in E flat major, Op. 48, J. 204
  • (08) Trio in G minor, Op. 63, J. 259

Kazunori Seo, flute
Shohei Uwamori, cello
Makoto Ueno, piano

Date: 2019
Label: Naxos



One might wonder, is there really an entire disc’s worth of chamber music for flute by Carl Maria von Weber? And the answer would be, you can assemble one if you make some arrangements. Of the three pieces on this album from Naxos, only one is fully authentic Weber; the other two are arrangements of Weber compositions, one done during Weber’s lifetime from one of his piano sonatas, and the other a modern version by flautist Kazunori Seo that replaces the clarinet part with a flute.

The results, somewhat surprisingly, are effective and for the most part rather convincing. The “flute sonata” is a period arrangement of Weber’s second piano sonata in A flat by a somewhat older contemporary of the composer, A.E. Müller. The results are really quite astonishing; Müller did an outstanding job of converting the piano sonata, allowing the flute to provide textures that are missing from the original, and in significant ways improving upon Weber’s work. Indeed, listening to the piano sonata now, it feels thin and sad, as if it’s missing a substantial part. This adaptation is quite masterful. While the flute sometimes simply takes the top line from the piano, at other times it fills in and interacts with the middle voices of the piano in imaginative ways that are not at all present or even suggested in the original. The third movement, a Minuetto capriccioso, is one of the best segments on the disc; it’s a great deal of fun and the performers give it everything. The composition remains a rather formidable challenge for the pianist, but Ueno handles it with aplomb. Seo’s flute is sensitive and comes across well in this sonata, though on occasion he has some high notes that I find harsh and unpleasant.

The Grand Duo Concertant, op.48, was written for clarinet or violin by Weber, and Seo himself here adapts it for flute. It’s for the most part a straight transcription, with slight adjustments for brief segments where the clarinet dips below the range of a flute. This adaptation is less successful than Müller’s, in large part because there are many spots (particularly in the first movement) where the throaty depth of a clarinet is sorely missed and a flute, even in the hands of someone talented as Seo, just can’t manage the sound quality that’s needed. The second movement Andante con moto nevertheless has some gorgeous, somber textures and is fully absorbing. The final Rondo in a bumptious 6/8 comes across quite well since it allows the lightness of the flute to shine.

The final piece is the one authentic Weber work, his Trio in G minor for flute, cello and piano, op.63. I was not previously familiar with this piece, but it’s quite outstanding. Weber demonstrates his mastery of the three voices in the first movement with the hauntingly beautiful main theme being passed from one to another, always in perfect balance. The joyous second subject is a delightful contrast full of even more complex interplay, and then the two are woven together in a stunning tapestry of sound. The second movement Scherzo is wild and tempestuous, with the flute part bringing to mind the image of a whirling dervish or a perpetual motion machine. While the cello doesn’t have much to do here, it gets to shine in the third movement Schäfers Klage (Shepherd’s Lament), a Schubertesque lied that is tremendously moving. The Finale is a study in contrasts, beginning with a mad accelerando, followed by numerous tempo changes and dramatic volume alterations that are often surprising and in full sturm und drang mode.

Kazunori Seo seems to be the flautist of choice on the Naxos label; he’s also found playing the flute music of Beethoven, Czerny, WF Bach, among others for them. His playing is usually solid and pleasant, though as noted there are a few high notes I found to be rather piccolo-like in their piercing quality. One thing I particularly like about his playing is that Seo doesn’t let the ends of notes tail off slightly as seems to be common among flautists. When called for, he can produce a surprisingly muscular tone from his flute.

The sound quality of the disc is overall quite satisfactory, being recorded in a moderately reverberant space that gives plenty of life to the flute without it being swamped in echoes. The dynamic contrasts are not always clear; places marked fortissimo in the score are sometimes not that different from those marked piano. One could wish for more care in the engineering in this regard, which I find a frequent issue with Naxos recordings. The accompanying notes are rather scanty.

-- Mark S. ZimmerMusicWeb International


Carl Maria von Weber (18 or 19 November 1786 – 5 June 1826) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school. Weber's operas greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in Germany. A brilliant pianist himself, his composition for piano influenced composers such as Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn. Weber's compositions for woodwind instruments, and his contribution to vocal and choral music is significant. His orchestration has also been highly praised and emulated by later generations of composers.


The flautist Kazunori Seo was born in Kitakyushu (Japan) in 1974. Among his teachers at the Paris Conservatoire were Patrick Gallois, Christian Ivaldi, and Maurice Bourgue. A prizewinner of international competitions, notably the Carl Nielsen and Jean-Pierre Rampal in 1998, the Geneva in 2001 and the Pro Musicis International Award in Paris in 2005, he has gained recognition as one of the world’s outstanding flautists through numerous appearances as soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. Seo gives recitals regularly in Paris (Salle Cortot), New York (Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall), Boston, and Tokyo.


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