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Christmas Images, $15 + postage/handling ($2), available from Raleigh Flute Choir, 3809 Midlakes Drive, Raleigh, NC 27612 (919/787-4142) or see http://www.RaleighFlutes.org/.
Perhaps we should just give up on organs completely. Here's a group of ladies — and one guy — with horns that make all those really glorious "air through a pipe" sounds and they can travel. We might hear some clanging in the hall, though; one of those horns is a contrabass flute bearing a likeness to either a medieval drainpipe or Gerard Hoffnung's triple Bb sub-contrabass trombone. As the former is alone and the latter requires a "friend," let's just go with the drainpipe image.
The disc is Christmas Images, the third recording by the Raleigh Flute Choir since the group was founded in 1986. In the "greatest hits" category are "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "Silent Night," "Greensleeves," "We Three Kings of Orient Are," and "Away in A Manger." Also among the greatest hits but arranged in new ways are "A La Nanita Nana," "The Coventry Carol," "Bring a Torch, Jeanette," and "Still, Still, Still," the Austrian carol. Finally, in the category of outright creative arranging comes "Gesu Bambino," "There's a Song in the Air" with Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" serving as obbligato ground, and finally a quasi-minimalist and terraced reading of Praetorius' "Lo, How a Rose e'er Blooming." Really, there is so much air and so much soaring that the only thing missing here is some reference to angels. (The full track list is at http://www.RaleighFlutes.org/RFC/RFCChristmasImages.html [inactive 6/08].)
The ensemble has fifteen flutes — a mixture of piccolo, E-flat flute, standard C flute, alto flute, bass flute, and the previously mentioned contrabass flute, alleged to be the only one in North Carolina. I have always heard that playing an alto flute is like blowing through a sewer pipe while holding a telephone pole, but we have a new reference now. Those lower horns sound fantastic but must be the devil to play well.
The players number ten — Kim Kittner, Diana Cherry, Thomas Mease (contra), Merritt Flexman, Irene Burke, Ann Pearce, Kimberly Allemang, Debra Benson, Rosene Rohrer, and Sallee Nelson. All members are from central North Carolina, sponsor or are members of the Raleigh Area Flute Association, and are committed to expanding the concert flute sound. As on this recording, a little help from piano or handchimes is a welcome change of timbre. They've been around too. The performance log shows Biltmore Estate, National Flute Association, Duke University, North Carolina Bach Festival, Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, and no less than four appearances at the White House since 1989.
The recording's subtitle suggests reminiscent, reflective and relaxing, and those are the key waves here. It's true. The recording is well done and the arrangements are interesting. The House arranger/composer is Ann Cameron Pearce, who also plays pic. She is able to set the instruments in correct contexts for each piece and mood. Density and traffic are two scary factors that are professionally addressed.
Just remember that there is no middle ground with this kind of sound. Either you have it as background music or you all sit down together at once and declare which tracks you'll hear. And then you listen. Don't try to do both at the same time. You'll trip over something.