Bezaly and Brautigam: Masterworks for flute and piano II
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sonata for flute and piano (1956-1957) [10:42]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Ballade for flute and piano (1939) [7:11]
Carl REINECKE (1824-1910)
Sonata ĎUndineí for flute and piano, Op.167 (1882) [18:20]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Sonata for flute and piano (1945) [16:13]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Le merle noir [1951) [5:28]
Sharon Bezaly (flute)
Ronald Brautigam (piano)
rec. June 2008, Nybrokajen, Stockholm, Sweden
BIS-SACD-1729 [59:23]

Sharon Bezaly and Ronald Brautigam are two of the brightest stars in the musical firmament, so BIS are indeed fortunate to have them on their roster of artists. Bezaly first came to my attention in Seascapes, but has since caught my ear in a number of recitals, among them Nordic Spell and From A to Z. Paradoxically, hers is a powerful yet unassuming talent, whereas Brautigam Ė whose Beethoven sonata series continues apace Ė strikes me as a much bigger, more forceful musical personality. That said, he scales the Mendelssohn piano concertos most beautifully (review) qualities I was looking for here as well.

At first glance itís quite an eclectic selection, but thatís no bad thing. All too often programmes clustered around broadly similar repertoire (stylistically at least) are apt to pall after a while. But three-quarters of a century and several musical traditions separate the pieces by Carl Reinecke and Francis Poulenc; the latterís Sonata gets this disc off to a promising start. The Ďrolling boilí of the fluteís opening phrases Ė not to mention the seemingly effortless trills Ė are well matched by Brautigamís nicely nuanced pianism. There are no really extreme dynamics here Ė well, not unless one counts the mercurial Presto giocoso Ė and that, along with BISís warm, well-balanced recording, makes for a most relaxing listen.

A hugely encouraging start, and a riposte to all those acid audiophiles who insist that non-DSD Super Audio CDs recorded at lower bit rates are a compromise too far. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a better blend of sonic virtues than those on show here. Swiss composer Frank Martinís Ballade is a case in point, the restless murmur of piano and flute at the start superbly captured. Bezalyís range and control at both frequency extremes is just remarkable; high notes are firm and clear, the lower registers wonderfully liquid, especially in the solo passage that begins at 3:06. Thereís a pleasing sense of proportion too, and one feels this really is a marriage of true minds, Brautigam scaling the musicís more rugged terrain with ease.

Predictably perhaps, Carl Reineckeís ĎUndineí sonata has all the evanescent charm one expects from such fare. And no, predictable does not mean humdrum; Bezaly conjures up the lightest, loveliest sounds, building a rainbow bridge under which the piano part flows most agreeably. But itís the third movement, marked Andante tranquillo, where Brautigam seems to get the upper hand. As seductive as the flute playing undoubtedly is, I found myself following the pianist more carefully than before. And just listen to those giddy upward spirals in the final movement, Brautigam bringing the music back to earth with a mix of passion and power. As for the restraint and repose of the closing bars, itís most sensitively done. No, it isnít great music, but when itís played this well who could possibly complain?

The soloists shadow each other to great effect in the Martinů Sonata, a work whose carapace conceals a surprisingly lyrical centre. Brautigam and Bezaly are very well matched in the animated first Allegro, the latterís tone characterised by an appealing breathiness in the lower registers. As flute recordings go, this recital really does capture the velvet and steel duality of the instrument most effectively. Indeed, I can see this being used as a demonstration disc, especially when it comes to the long, sustained phrases that round off the Adagio. As for the piece itself, those who donít know it will engage with its easygoing, yet entirely individual, character. Another nugget in this most desirable pot, and a piece I will return to with great pleasure.

But itís Messiaenís Le merle noir (the blackbird) thatís the most inspired choice here. For a composer who rejoiced in the monumental itís good to be reminded that he is every bit as persuasive in miniature. And just as Hopkins delighted in the wonders of The Windhover, so Messiaenís blackbird soars and sings above an undergrowth of dark, fleeting dissonances, Bezaly despatching those microtones and flourishes with great skill and confidence. Outwardly Le merle noir might seem a tad austere, but even those who donít usually warm to Messiaenís cooler idiom will surely respond positively to this miraculous miniature.

So, another imaginative, well-executed offering from BIS. I have yet to hear the first volume in the series, but if the present disc is anything to go by it should be on the wish-list of all those who enjoy the genre. Itís certainly on mine.

Dan Morgan

Another imaginative, well-executed offering from BIS.