Friday, March 27, 2009

Pahud's Flute, French Music Grace Music Hall

From "Music in Cincinnati," the blog of Mary Ellyn Hutton, on 3/23/09

Vive la musique francaise. Vive la flute. Such was the response to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s all-French program March 22 at Music Hall. Led by music director Paavo Järvi, the concert featured Swiss-French flutist Emmanuel Pahud in Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute, and Marc-Andre Dalbavie’s Flute Concerto. The Dalbavie was a U.S. premiere. Also on the program (which opened March 21 at Music Hall) were Gabriel Faure’s “Dolly” Suite and Debussy’s “La Mer.” One felt drenched in Gallic colors, from the golds and ivories of the salon to the greens and blues of the vineyards and the Mediterranean Sea. Pahud, 39, is principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic and an international soloist of the first rank (flutist James Galway was also principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic). Dalbavie, who wrote his 2006 Flute Concerto for Pahud, is one of France’s most important contemporary composers. Pahud and CSO principal flutist Randolph Bowman explained the close connection between the flute and French music in a highly informative and engaging Classical Conversation with CSO assistant conductor Vince Lee before the concert. The flute, a concerto instrument during the baroque and classical periods, was eclipsed during the romantic era, when orchestras grew larger, putting it at a disadvantage in the solo spot. Improvements to the flute by Theobald Boehm during the 19th century enhanced its solo capacity and fostered a revival of the concerto literature beginning at the turn of the 20th century in France. Flute virtuosi at the Paris Conservatory taught many of the great flutists of the 20th century, including Galway, William Kincaid, Julius Baker and going into the 21st century, Pahud. Bowman, whose distinctively sweet tone graced much of the music on the CSO program, was a student of Baker at the New England Conservatoy. Pahud led off with Poulenc’s Flute Sonata, a staple of the flute repertoire transcribed for orchestra in 1977 by English composer Lennox Berkeley. It was an ear-ravishing performance, featuring close interaction with the CSO principal winds throughout. Natty in a red bow tie with a red handkerchief peeking from his vest pocket, Pahud swayed and danced with the music. Dalbavie’s Concerto followed after intermission. Seventeen minutes long in a single, three-part movement, it is at once a showpiece for the flute, an immersion in timbres and colors and an illustration of the attempts by many of today’s younger composers to synthesize modernism and so-called more “accessible” musical languages. It began like something out of a Bernard Hermann film score with a thud of gong, chime and timpani followed by rapid flute arpeggios. “The Flight of the Bumblebee” also came to mind as Pahud sped along, joined by the trumpets in rat-a-tat-tat-like figures on single notes and ringing harmonies that recalled Estonian composer Lepo Sumera’s symphonies. The flute and instruments in the orchestra tossed rapid figures to one another with seeming abandon. The slow mid-section brought hazy textures, string glissandi and a recollection of the flute solo at the beginning of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” Rapid rhythmic activity returned in the final section, where Dalbavie asks the solo flutist to imitate the trumpet and also to play “pizzicato,” a term which on the flute, means blowing into the instrument’s mouthpiece while simultaneously forming a “t” or “p” sound. Headlong downward scales by the flute and orchestra, some nimble playing by Richard Jensen on xylophone and a final, exuberant flourish drew a whoop or two from the audience. “La Mer,” the concert’s timeless international classic, bathed Music Hall in Debussy’s vivid harmonic and timbral palette. “From Dawn to Noon on the Sea” pictured a calm but sparkling day over the waters, Järvi’s characteristic attention to detail bringing out even the smallest squiggle of bassoon. The great cello surge was shaped beautifully, with the horn cresting on top, and principal cellist Eric Kim and English hornist Christopher Philpotts added a lovely wistful moment to the overall sunny day. “Games of the Waves” featured outstanding playing by the characterful CSO winds, with the harps adding picturesque sprays now and then. “Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea” brought the storm clouds, beginning with an ominous growl in the lower strings. Joan Voorhees’ menacing piccolo cut through clearly, and the great, eerie moment -- brought to near silence by Järvi -- before Bowman and principal oboist Dwight Parry’s keening, two-note incantation -- was breathtaking. Everything came together in a magnificent conclusion that earned repeated curtain calls and acknowledgements of and by the CSO players, who accorded Järvi a solo bow by finally refusing to stand. Opening work on the program was 19th-century composer Gabriel Faure’s charming “Dolly” Suite, a set of six character pieces for piano duet originally written for a friend’s young daughter (Dolly) and later transcribed for orchestra. String textures were extraordinary here, soft as kitten’s fur in the opening “Berceuse,” like silk in “Mi-a-ou” (“Messieur Aoul”) as they reflected off the CSO winds. Parry and principal French hornist Elizabeth Freimuth had a lush romantic moment in “Tendresse,” while the final tambourine-laced “Les pas Espagnol” was festive and brassy.

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