The flute hasn’t appeared much on center stage since the heydays of James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal. Today, the flute repertoire has a new star, Emmanuel Pahud, whose sound is so rich and larger-than-life, you can do nothing but revel in its glory.
Pahud was soloist Friday morning with Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in an all-French program, which twice had the audience on its feet. It included a ravishing performance of Debussy’s “La Mer,” as well as charming pieces by Gabriel Fauré and Francis Poulenc.
But the biggest surprise was a Flute Concerto composed by Frenchman Marc-André Dalbavie in 2006 for Pahud, who was performing its United States premiere in Music Hall. Here was a piece that was beautifully crafted, with a radiant tonal palette for the orchestra and vibrant melodies and effects for the flutist.
The Swiss-French flutist, who is principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic, tackled the work’s virtuosities with panache, almost as if he were improvising on the spot. It opened with soaring arpeggios that grew into a frenzied perpetual motion, and called upon all types of special effects, including flutter-tonguing.
More languid sections were reminiscent of Debussy. Pahud had the ability to vary the colors of a phrase seamlessly, whether performing rhapsodic melody or staccato motives. One of the most unusual sounds was a “pizzicato” that involved puffing into the flute, a sound like hollow Asian chimes in a breeze.The orchestra provided a refined canvas.Pahud also performed Poulenc’s Flute Sonata, arranged by Lennox Berkeley. This was an irresistible performance, negotiated with flawless technique and a pure, golden tone.The morning opened with Fauré’s “Dolly” Suite, which began life as a piano duet. Järvi captured its French style, one of lightness and transparency, and orchestral soloists made fine contributions.The orchestra has performed Debussy’s “La Mer” many times, and Järvi has recorded it with them for Telarc. But this was as fresh and spontaneous a reading as one could wish for, and the orchestral sound was glowing and refined.The opening “From Dawn to Noon on the Sea” was buoyant and well-paced, with wonderful plays of light and dark. Leading in big, dramatic sweeps, Järvi allowed his players to shine, while allowing the music to breathe.Järvi led the finale with momentum, power and a touch of fierceness. I prefer a more spacious quality leading up to the brilliant finish, but the result was pure electricity.