Claude Arrieu’s flute concerto has proven a bit of a mystery to dig into. Written for Rampal in 1946, it somehow vanished into the great Unplayed Repertoire Pool of the 50s, only re-emerging once, in the 1970s, when Michel Debost performed it with an unknown orchestra for the French Broadcasting System in North America radio program.
This is odd. Arrieu, a graduate of the Conservatoire de Paris, won the Prix Italia just four years after writing the flute concerto and left behind an enormous number of pieces still played today (including her Sonatine for Flute and Piano, a fairly well-known piece in the flute repertoire and another hugely successful piece championed by Rampal, though in the opinion of this writer a little bit dorky). She also wrote several French film scores that still sell albums.
And yet - there are no recordings of the flute concerto, no large public performances on record, no history in competitions. If it’s being played it’s strictly in back alleys.
A pity, since the concerto itself is absolutely fantastic, editorial bias be damned. Much more appealing than the Sonatine - and much more difficult, too; very much a workout and a college-level competition piece - the Concerto is by turns charming and playful, with a solid melodic core, bubbly asides, and that perfect French sense of balance in harmony. Three movements, as was typical of the time; a solid, declarative first movement with a quasi-cadenza, a reflective central Andante almost hinting at a sort of French Khachaturian, and a Presto finale that speeds and bubbles away to a dramatic, swirling finish. And yet no one plays it! No one knows to play it!
Someone who could be winning things with a new, refreshing piece is missing out.