Editor’s Choice: Chamber – July 2015
For some years Emmanuel Pahud has been the poster boy of the flute fraternity with prominent positions in the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado’s hand-picked Lucerne Festival Orchestra. His superb two-disc set The Flute King explored the German school hovering around the court of Frederick the Great, while this new release is a tribute to the French school of the late 18th century.
For those of us who grew up with hoary old music histories declaring this a period bereft of interest apart from Mozart and Haydn, other fascinating developments from a time of social turmoil are gradually coming to light. Earlier recordings of these works in the old “Dresden china” manner of playing were mostly deadly dull and reinforced those old prejudices so it is a delight to hear them taken by the scruff of the neck and presented with the sort of flair and élan that a crack team would lavish on a mainstream masterpiece.
Pahud’s playing is stunning with perfectly focused tone at all dynamics, immaculate articulation and a technique so supreme that one can simply enjoy it for its physicality and grace. A single sustained note from Pahud can carry such subtleties through slight changes of tonal intensity, vibrato and colour that the ear never tires. He can take an insignificant musical gesture such as two concluding notes at the end of the slow movement of Gianella’s concerto and invest them with such heart-stopping beauty that one is struck by such details that normally slip by. Note the way he shapes a succession of trills in the finale of the Gluck, or its slow movement like a pennant of the finest silk imaginable fluttering on a breeze.
I’ve heard the Devienne E Minor dutifully slogged through by lesser players, so to hear this romp of a performance was a joy. I wanted to leap from my seat at the conclusion and cheer. At other times the virtuosity and pure beauty made tears well up – I kid you not – while the fireworks in the concluding Pleyel are gob-smacking.
I must also mention the superb orchestra under the inspired leadership of Giovanni Antonini. Vibrant period-aware textures, yet with the firm-bodied tone of modern instruments, provide beautifully poised and elegant accompaniments. Note the delicious wind interjections in the first movement of the Gianella; such perky oboes! The sound is state of the art with stunning transparency in an ideal acoustic.
Warwick Arnold reviewed Revolution using Sennheiser HD800 headphones