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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013 [17:11]
Pierre BOULEZ (1925-2016)
Sonatine for flute and piano, (1946) [13:01]
Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)
Solo III for solo flute, (1990/91) [11:46]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for flute and piano in D major (1943), Op. 94 [24:45]
Brandon Patrick George (flute)
Steven Beck, Jacob Greenberg (piano)
rec. March/May 2017 (Prokofiev), May 2017 (Boulez), May 2018 (J.S. Bach) Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, New York; May 2017 (Aho) Saint Ignatius of Antioch, New York City
PROFIL EDITION PH18039 [66:50]

Normally, my purview does not include albums of flute music. Released on Profil, this debut solo album from flautist Brandon Patrick George of sonatas and solo works is a reminder of the delights that can accrue from widening one’s scope.

After High School at Dayton, Ohio, George studied under Professor Michel Debost at the Conservatory of Music, Oberlin College, Ohio and also in France with Professor Sophie Cherrier at the Paris Conservatoire. Subsequently, he obtained a Master of Music degree at Manhattan School of Music, New York City also winning the concerto competition. A teacher himself, George serves on the Summerfest faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia. On the concert stage, George has performed as soloist with some of the world’s foremost ensembles including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). New York City based, George is also a member of the Grammy® nominated Imani Winds quintet. Founded in 1997, Imani Winds have a wide-ranging wind repertory of both traditional and contemporary works.

With this debut album, George takes his turn in the limelight as a solo artist. A score each by J.S. Bach, Sergei Prokofiev, Pierre Boulez and Kalevi Aho has been selected. These are works ranging from late baroque to contemporary, spanning some two hundred and seventy years, a journey through time that George describes as ‘a dialogue between the past and the future.’

George opens his recital with J.S. Bach’s sole work for solo flute, the Partita in A minor, BWV 1013. Described on the authenticated manuscript copies as a ‘Solo p[our une] flûte traversière par J. S. Bach’ the date of this four-movement Partita might be from the period 1723-24 at Leipzig but this is a matter of conjecture. Initially, George prepared the Partita using a baroque traverso flute then decided to use a modern silver flute to obtain a warmer and subtler tone. He successfully enhances the dance-like character of the Partita, a feature often overlooked today. The opening movement, an atmospheric Allemande with an undertow which hints of mystery, is outstanding, and George ensures a distinct moderation to the Sarabande in writing that could easily depict a pastoral scene.

When he was student in Paris, George’s teacher Sophie Cherrier had joined Boulez’s own Ensemble intercontemporain and during its rehearsals at IRCAM he was able to sit in on works including the Boulez’ Sonatine for flute and piano. Requiring the flautist to explore the possibilities of the instrument, for all its serial complexity it is viewed by George as essentially a classical sonata despite its single movement span. As one fascinated by Boulez’s music here, I relish the combination of flute and piano. Although somewhat challenging, the score is full of fascinating features and certainly holds my attention. George and Steven Beck seem to emphasise the contrasting character of the sound which ranges from delicate, tonal beauty and delicate to vicious forcefulness.

In 2011, I attended the world premiere of Aho’s Symphony No. 15 played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra with Juanjo Mena conducting in Manchester. As a result of listening to that concert and several of Aho’s recordings, I believe that, with reasonable concentration, his fascinating sound world is generally accessible. Here, George is playing Solo III for solo flute, a work from his ongoing project, a sixteen-part series for various solo instruments. Cast in two dissimilar movements, in total the work takes approaching twelve minutes to perform. A lone, continuous melody is the feature of the slow opening movement written in 1990, which is devised on a quarter-tone scale (marked Quarter note = 66). George views the movement as an inconsolably sorrowful sung lamentation. A year later, Aho wrote a second movement Presto which the composer describes as ‘perpetual motion in 1/16-notes.’ George assuredly produces the extended ‘melodic phrases’ in the opening movement’s near dysphoria and is not daunted by the technically challenging and virtuosic demands of the second movement’s rapid pace.

Prokofiev’s lyrical Flute Sonata in D major, with its traditional four movement design, has become a much-admired repertory work. The Flute Sonata was completed in Russia in 1943 during Prokofiev’s evacuation from Moscow to the country while he was working on his score to Sergei Eisenstein's film Ivan the Terrible. Despite the continuing terrors of the Second World War, this is one of Prokofiev’s most joyful, humane and uplifting scores. Some readers may know that the composer prepared a transcription of the flute sonata for violin (No. 2, Op. 94a) at the behest of violinist David Oistrakh. In the Flute Sonata, George engages strongly with the bitter-sweet melodies of the verdant opening Moderato. The soloist is excitable, assertive and effusive in his delight in the dance rhythms of the Allegretto Scherzando. Notable, too, is the contrasting trio section containing a strong introspective quality. Flanked by boisterous movements, the Andante is a haven of equanimity evoking an intense pastoral feeling. Here, George honours the beautiful writing in the flute’s low register. Marked Allegro con Brio the virtuosic, often mischievous Finale has a distinctly positive and jubilant character. In a central section, Jacob Greenberg’s playing of his piano cadenza is especially impressive. The dance-like quality of the glorious writing is no surprise, as Prokofiev was a master-composer of twentieth-century ballets. It is hard to disagree with George who views this enriching score as having classical, almost Mozartian, grace.

Throughout the album George’s prowess seems to refute the technical challenges of his instrument. It is easy to admire his gift for producing vivid tone colour together with an adroit control of phrasing. Such a refined flautist, George displays top drawer virtuosity, and his awareness of dynamic nuance seems innate. Pianists Steven Beck (Boulez) and Jacob Greenberg (Prokofiev) complement George, forming strong partnerships which do full service to the music.

The venue for the studio recording of Aho’s Solo III was Saint Ignatius of Antioch, New York City, while the three-remaining works were recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon in New York State. Uniformly satisfying sound has been provided for each work and standing out is the clarity and balance between flute and piano. Dr. Jens Markowsky has written the helpful booklet essay with the original German translated into English.

George’s debut solo album is inspiring and compelling and certainly not just a release for flute specialists. The exemplary playing and the sheer diversity of the four works, ranging from late-baroque to the present day, are both outstanding. 

Michael Cookson


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