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Bridge across the Pyrenees - Flute Concertos
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concierto pastoral (1978) [25:19]
François BORNE (1840-1920)
Fantaisie brillante sur des airs de Carmen [11:09]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Concerto for flute and orchestra (1934) [19:15]
Sharon Bezaly (flute)
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling
rec. July 2005, Sala São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.
BIS-SACD-1559 [56:50]


In an essay which informs purchasers of this CD not only about the music and composers on this disc, but also about the artistic climate which led to a distinct rivalry between France and Spain, Horst A. Scholz draws attention to the attraction that Spain had for Gallic composers. Sarcastic tongues grumbled “that the best Spanish music was being written abroad”, and with French composers at the vanguard of this trend there are plenty of examples, ranging from Chabrier’s ‘España’ to Bizet’s ‘Carmen’. Human nature dictates that the Grass is always Greener on the other side, and so it was with the mountainous dividing line which creates the natural border between France and Spain – except that in this case the traffic seems to have been largely one-way.

Rodrigo did in fact spend time in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, but so many others did that this hardly counts as an exclusive Spanish export. If his Concierto pastoral doesn’t quite have the same timeless, catchy memorable quality as the famous Concierto de Aranjuez, it certainly conjures a similar atmosphere of wide landscapes, shimmering mirages of sun-baked plains and vistas. Sounds of nature are introduced in birdsong, and the 6/8 rhythms of the final Rondo: Allegro provide the folk-like dances through which fragments of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony occasionally threaten to break.

François Borne is a composer about which very little is known, but his famous Fantasie brillante sur des airs de ‘Carmen’ makes up for this obscurity, and forms the transition between Spain and France in this programme, recorded here in a version for flute and orchestra by Giancarlo Chiaramello. A showpiece for the soloist, there is also a great deal of creative inventiveness on the go in this work – principally in extensions and variations on the well-known themes in Bizet’s opera.

Having crossed the mountain range in a northerly direction, we conclude with Ibert’s Concerto for flute and orchestra. Jacques Ibert was a composer whose empathy for the Spanish ‘sound’ was a recognised feature of his work, and while the Concerto doesn’t overtly provide a salute in Spain’s direction it does possess a pizzazz which fits nicely into the colourful and zesty character which is a feature of many people’s idea of what Spain is about. In many ways it is the perfect flute concerto, balancing virtuoso display with sensuous expressiveness, and accompanying the soloist with a light orchestral touch, featuring plenty of warmth and dialogue.

It only remains to comment on the recording and performance. BIS’s usual high standard is maintained, with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra sounding richly smooth and impeccably disciplined, the balance between soloist and orchestra natural enough. Sharon Bezaly effortlessly confirms her position at the top of the tree as regards current flute professionals. Crystal clear and beautifully projected, her tone is never hard or forced, vibrato is tempered and used expressively, phrasing musical and unmannered, technique flawless – I’ve heard so many mediocre flute recordings in the last month or so that it comes as quite a relief to have my faith in the instrument restored. I was interested to hear her using what sounds like circular breathing in some legato passages – not a criticism, but something unusual outside the kind of contemporary music from which many prefer to run away and hide: listen for short sniffing sounds where the notes in the solo carry on sounding. If there is any criticism then it can only be of the relatively short playing time, but with musicianship of this standard, who’s complaining.

Dominy Clements 



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