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Hindemith, Al-Turk and Bowen:  Wissam Boustany (flute), Aleksander Szram (piano) St John’s, Smith Square, London 22. 5.2008 (CR)

This performance had more of the feel of a special event than the average run-of-the mill concert. The obvious political undertones (Boustany uses his music to raise awareness for the campaign for peace in Lebanon) were unavoidable, and the Lebanese community turned out in force to support their musical hero. Also present were a number of students (presumably including Boustany and Szram’s pupils from Trinity) and several well-known flute players, who clearly hold Boustany in high regard. There was a palpable buzz of anticipation prior to the start of the concert, and the stage, with the conspicuous absence of music stands, featured two artworks by Tom Young.

It was clear from the outset that Boustany and Szram had exceptional stage presence, filling the hall with their personalities as well as with their music. Both played from memory throughout, something Boustany is passionate about in terms of communication. I wasn’t completely convinced that this approach would work all the time and for everyone, (the removal of all safety nets made me initially a little uncomfortable as an audience member) but the dedication of these performers was obvious and the performance was a highly successful one.

Hindemith’s Sonata opened the concert; an austere work which is often played with Germanic severity. In the hands of Boustany, with his wide dynamic range and magical pianissimos, this was a deeply emotional experience, full of contrasts of sonority and character. The faster moments were played with a sense of disciplined enjoyment, clearly articulated and highly animated.

Ian Clarke is one of the world’s best loved flute player/composers, whose music, encompassing popular styles and the extended possibilities of contemporary flute techniques, has been enthusiastically adopted by the younger generation of players. Best known for flashy demonstration pieces, such as The Great Train Race and Zoom Tube (recently performed in this year’s Young Musician of the Year Competition), Clarke’s Touching the Ether is a more subdued work, written in memory of his mother.  This was a poignant performance, with Boustany making easy work of the glissandi and quarter tones that decorated the melody, not to mention the demands of high register playing, which seemed effortless. Undoubtedly this is a work which will be heard on our concert platforms many times in the next few years.

In some ways, Jolivet’s Sonata sounded more contemporary in its harmonic language than Clarke’s work. The dark and haunting opening makes use of repeated patterns which are subtly transformed as the work develops. Boustany and Szram performed with great sensitivity and understanding. The slow movement was the most intoxicating; with Boustany’s deep emotional connection to the music he plays it is unsurprising that he has a particular talent for creating truly spell binding quiet moments which draw the audience in and stay in the memory for a long time afterwards. These are moments that anyone listening has no choice but to experience rather than just hear. By stark contrast, the violent final movement demonstrated the range of Boustany’s playing. Technically secure and dynamically powerful, this was energetic and bold.

The well publicised centre-piece of the concert was the premiere of Bushra El-Turk’s Marionette, a dramatic work which makes full use of the flute’s arsenal of sounds, including the voice of the flute player, heard shouting the three Lebanese words for ‘no’ (reminiscent of Takemitsu’s Voice in this respect). This short and exciting work was well-conceived and highly convincing in performance and looks set to be an accepted part of twenty-first century flute repertoire.

For me, the highlight of the concert was Boustany’s astonishing performance of Wil Offermans’ Honami for solo flute. The simple melodic lines were beautifully shaped, and the quiet atmospheric soundscape was exquisite in the hands of Boustany.

The concert ended with Edwin York Bowen’s Sonata, an English work with an obvious French romantic influence in the first and last movements. It was, like the other works on this well constructed programme, treated to some lush, poetic playing from tonight’s accomplished performers, with a range of emotions from the intimate slow movement to the bright and powerful finale, full of boundless and invigorating energy.

One had the sense in this concert that the performers were sharing a deeply personal experience. The response of the audience was genuinely enthusiastic, and one has the sense that this is what music is all about – performers reaching out to the public to enable a shared emotional response. The encore of The Swan by Saint-Saens was so beautiful that words hardly come close to describing it; in my mind there is no question that Boustany proved himself this evening as one of the great musicians of our time.

Carla Rees

For a second opinion see our Emeritus Editor, Peter Grahame Woolf's review of this concert on his own site Musical Pointers

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