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.
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.
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.
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
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.