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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata in D Major, Op.94 (1943) [22:29]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Variations in E Minor on the song ‘Trockne Blumen’, D802 (1824) [19:28]
Henri DUTILLEUX (b.1916)
Sonatina (1943) [9:15]
André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Chant de Linos (1944) [10:26]
Sharon Bezaly (flute)
Ronald Brautigam (piano)
rec. August 2005, Nybrokajen 11 (the former Academy of Music), Stockholm, Sweden.
BIS-SACD-1429 [63:03]

 

 

It’s interesting how, when you work on a piece you’ve known for ages with a ‘new’ accompanist, you can be thrown all kinds of surprises. Having also performed with Johan the piano for ages, I know his eccentricities well enough, but after much initial enthusiasm he began complaining that Prokofiev must have been in bad mood when he wrote his Sonata op.94. This kind of commentary is hard to quantify, but if any performance was designed to refute such intuitive and unsubstantiated claims then this is the one.

Sharon Bezaly plays with a crystal clear, resonant tone, impeccable intonation and technique and tastefully timed - if occasionally slowish - vibrato. She and Ronald Brautigam have an almost supernatural sympathy together, and the Prokofiev goes off like a smart rocket, hitting all the right heartstrings and knocking the competition into the proverbial cocked hat at the same time. Both players come up trumps at each turn of this familiar masterpiece, and while such music is almost impossible to render as an absolutely definitive performance I can’t imagine a better one. Only at the very opening would I plead for a slightly more ‘semplice’ approach – the added vibrato being a little like putting the finishing touches onto a painting by Titian using a two-inch brush - compare the opening with the repeat, which is more consistent. The informative booklet notes mentions Prokofiev’s own statement that the Sonata should be played with a ‘bright, transparent, classical tone’, and it seems to me that this duo hit the nail right on the head.

Schubert’s Trockne Blumen is the 18th song in the cycle Die schöne Müllerin, at which point it reaches its emotional peak, the wilted flowers being those which accompany the miller to the grave of his beloved. The variations are of course tinted with this depth of sadness, even during the more virtuosic parts, but in the end Schubert gives way to a ‘happy ending’ as the tonality changes from minor to major. This duo is an eloquent advocate for the piece, which was originally written for Schubert’s friend Ferdinand Bogner, a virtuoso flautist and professor at the Vienna Conservatoire.

Henri Dutilleux’s Sonatina holds no real shocks for the conservative listener. It was commissioned as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire, and explores the range and technique of the flute in an approachable way more akin to Roussel than Messiaen. I’ve always rather liked Michel Debost’s recording of this (‘Flute Panorama’, Skarbo), but with the advantage of a richer acoustic and better balanced recording I have to say the new Bis CD wins easily for repeated listening.

For the most modern sounding work on this album we come to Jolivet’s Chant de Linos, whose title refers to the legend of Linos, who, being either dim or blindly brave, challenged Apollo to a musical competition. The outcome of this cost Linos his life, and the music reflects some of this violence, although Jolivet also had the Greek concept of ‘linos’ as a ‘ritual lament punctuated by cries and dancing’ in mind. This piece has lyrical, doloroso passages at its centre and a modal feel which manages to juxtapose the archaic with a modern idiom. The most spectacular passages are of course a breeze for Bezaly and Brautigam, and it is a delight to hear this work played so well.

The recording is set in a warmly resonant but not overly swimmy acoustic. Both musicians are well balanced, and every polished detail and nuance comes through, without having to put up with microphones ‘down the throat’ of each instrument. In the olden days it was the likes of Robert Aitken and Gunilla von Bahr, and more recently Manuela Wiesler who flew the flute flag for Bis. With Sharon Bezaly taking up the tradition I for one am happy to follow her all the way to the checkout till.

Dominy Clements       

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