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Sharon Bezaly: From A to Z: Volume 1
Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)
Solo III (1990-91) [13:08]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonata in A minor for Solo Flute, W.132
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2007)
Fantasy for Flute, Op.89 (1966) [4:30]
Jurriaan ANDRIESSEN (1925-1996)
Pastorale d'été [3:07]
Eugène BOZZA (1905-1991)
Image pour flûte seul, Op.38 (1940) [5:13]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita in A minor for Solo Flute, BWV 1013 [17:40]
Luciano BERIO (1925-2003)
Sequenza I per flauto solo (1958) [7:23]
Sharon Bezaly (flute)
rec.  October 2000, Furuby Church, Växjö, Sweden
BIS CD1159 [67.45]

Experience Classicsonline

Flautist Sharon Bezaly’s discography has grown substantially since she made this recording in 2000. In that time two of the featured composers – Sir Malcolm Arnold and Luciano Berio – have died and a third, Kalevi Aho, has gone on to consolidate his reputation as Finland’s foremost living composer. John Quinn assessed this disc when it was first released (see review) and another, similarly eclectic, volume followed in 2001 (see review by Roy Brewer).

Given that the first two discs have only advanced as far as Carter and Caldini this is clearly a long-term project. That said, Bezaly’s success elsewhere seems to have halted this enterprise, for the time being at least. The good news, though, is that her playing is as accomplished as ever, bold, clear and confident. Solo III, originally a competition piece, is an exercise in quarter tones that comes across as a sequence of upward and downward ‘slides’ or glissandi. Bezaly’s breath control is extraordinary, and she produces a seamless thread of sound throughout. There are contrasts, too, between quieter, breathier passages and what can best be described as sine-wave-like episodes of great purity.

After a magically soft conclusion to the first movement, marked crotchet = 66, Bezaly launches into the vigorous Presto. Her athleticism is just as captivating here, the recording sympathetically balanced so that even the chromium-plated top notes don’t sound over-bright. Of course it’s not just about the playing; the success of these collections also depends on good programming. Bezaly is clearly at home in testing 20th-century repertoire, but as her recent Barocking Together CD confirms she is equally attuned to music of the 18th (see Brian Wilson’s review).

The C.P.E. Bach Sonata may be in the relatively bright key of A minor yet its inherent warmth, grace and charm are most welcome after the extremes of Solo III. The Poco adagio is wonderfully fluid, the trills despatched with ease yet without any false sense of virtuosity. That really is the essence of Bezaly’s playing; it may be highly polished but it always conveys a modicum of feeling. 

If anything the first Allegro is even more impressive, Bezaly capturing a real sense of the music’s vaulting architecture. She produces cascade after cascade of sound and it’s only in the final movement that one yearns for a less glitter and more invention. No matter, it’s assured playing that should please most listeners; that said, some may find Bezaly’s  rich, generously proportioned approach a touch too Romantic for their tastes.

No quibbles about Arnold’s delightful miniature – it lasts less than five minutes – with its mixture of introspection and cheerful virtuosity. Again I was struck by the soloist’s remarkable breath control and evenness of tone, especially in the flute’s upper reaches The Dutch composer Jurriaan Andriessen’s Pastorale d'été is even shorter, yet it’s a thoroughly engaging work, brimming with Arcadian warmth and geniality.

Although French composer-conductor Eugène Bozza’s Image pour flûte seul has a strong improvisatory feel it surely drinks from the same well as Debussy, recalling the latter’s Images and, especially, L'Après-midi d'un faune. Its dreamy languor is certainly a world away from the Baroque symmetry of the Bach Partita, whose opening Allemande is beautifully shaped and scaled – in every sense of the word – the Corrente bright-eyed and fleet of foot. The Sarabande has a touch of ague, perhaps – but not too much – and while the filigreed Bourrèe Anglaise isn’t exactly boisterous it darts and flits around the church to great effect.

The collection ends with Berio’s Sequenza I, still sounding unremittingly ‘modern’ after 50 years. Bezaly tackles the music’s fragmented phrases and extremes with customary aplomb. Even those who fight shy of new music in general –or Berio in particular – will surely find much to savour here, not least Berio’s wide range of colours and textures.

Bezaly fans know what to expect from her, but newbies are in for a treat. I tend to prefer her as a more substantial main course – she is superb in Aho’s Flute Concerto – but this collection is as good an entrée to her art as any.

Dan Morgan 

see also Review by John Quinn



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