After giving a masterclass at the Hochschule fur Musik in Frankfurt in November last year Ashley met an amateur flute player and collector of historical flutes. Over the last forty-five years he has collected over 600 historical flutes, spanning the entire history of the flute from the earliest 3-piece French flute made by Chatillon in the 1680s to Boehm system flutes from the mid-19th century. All these flutes are unique in their own way, unmodernised and all in excellent condition. Close to seventy of these are baroque (one-keyed flutes), similar to the copies Ashley has spent his professional career playing. The Spohr collection of flutes is possibly one of the largest private collections of original flutes in existence. Having slumbered in their cases in Frankfurt for so long, some of these instruments are fragile, delicate and temperamental. However, there is almost nothing in life as viscerally exciting, as appealing to the intellect and to the senses, as playing on outstanding historical instruments. Thanks to the remarkable generosity of this private collector Ashley now has an opportunity to record on a number of these flutes (nine in total for this first volume) for this new recording project with Channel Classics. 

What makes our project special

Ashley’s last solo recording of Telemann Flute Fantasias allowed him to showcase the “royal flute” made of porcelain and gold by Meissen and owned by King George III, together with an ivory flute by the English maker Cahusac from 1760, a lovely, but unexceptional flute. The recording was certainly challenging to prepare and record on these two original flutes. Now we are about to embark on one of the most ambitious projects of our career. Taking nine flutes by different makers magnifies this challenge on so many levels. As we get to know these instruments, with several planned visits to the collection in Germany over the coming months, we need to understand how to get the most out of each flute, how to draw out the best sound, understand where the weaknesses are, which notes are problematic, what pitch it is happiest playing at (several flutes have a number of middle joints at different pitches) all within a limited amount of contact time. Some of these flutes are too precious to play for more than 10-15 minutes at any one time, not an ideal situation in which to prepare for a recording. Some of these flutes can be seen in this image above.

What we will record

It is essential for the integrity of this project that we identify repertoire that was appropriate for the selected flutes in both temporal and geographical terms; music that could perhaps have been played on these particular instruments at the time of their manufacture. One of these flutes is the famous baroque flute produced by the great Nuremburg maker Jacob Denner in 1725. This particular flute was discovered in 1991 when clearing a condemned house near Nuremberg. Johann Sebastian Bach knew Denner and his instruments, and it is possible that this flute might have once been played by Mr Buffardin, the flute virtuoso who Bach composed his only solo flute partita for in 1718. When we made our recording of the complete Bach flute sonatas and solo partita with Terence Charlston for Channel Classics (CCS 15798 & CCS18498) in 1998, we used a copy of this particular instrument which was made by Rod Cameron after he was leant this flute to copy. Gramophone Magazine voted our recording of the Bach sonatas the best overall recording of the complete Bach flute sonatas on either modern or baroque flute when they published their overview of all the recordings of these works in February 2017. 

‘Solomon’s luminous tone and unfussy command of the complicated melodies conflate into something utterly beautiful. Slow movements are soulful in their infinite variety, fast ones are clever and with a wealth of invention behind them.’

Imagine if we had been allowed to play or record on the original back then!

On this beautiful Denner flute we plan to record our arrangement of Bach’s Organ Trio Sonata BWV525 for flute and obligato harpsichord. We recorded this piece in 2012 with Florilegium in a version for flute, violin, cello and harpsichord on our Organ Trio Sonata CD (CCS27012). This version will be much more intimate, allowing the flute to take centre stage. 

The rest of the programme for this CD will include intimate chamber works by Telemann, Leclair, Locatelli, Barriere, Hotteterre and Morel with my colleagues Terence Charlston (harpsichord), Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba) and David Miller (theorbo).

When and Where?

The recording is going to take place in Holland in a delightful church in a small town called Renswoude from 9 – 11 December. I have many fond memories of recording Bach’s solo flute partita from my first volume of Bach flute sonatas almost 20 years ago in this church, and am looking forward to returning there in a few months. I plan to edit the CD with Jared Sacks from Channel Classics almost immediately as we are hoping to release this latest recording at our Wigmore Hall concert on 4 March 2020. I also hope to be able to use one of these flutes in this launch concert.

Why do we need your help?

A recording project like this needs a big investment from Florilegium. We are responsible for covering the costs of research, preparation of modern editions of the repertoire, and recording costs including player fees, keyboard provision and venue hire. As always, our Partners in this enterprise will be Jared Sacks and Channel Classics who will cover the substantial recording, production and post-production costs as always delivering an exceptional recording and informative and attractive information booklet.

We are looking for people to join our circle of supporters to help us make this project a reality and take the next vital step in Florilegium’s artistic development. We need your help to raise £5,000 between now and the start of the recording session in December.