The opening work of this wide-ranging disc is a marvellously argumentative study that isn’t far from a musical setting of the biblical tale of David and Goliath—albeit with a decidedly different resolution.
The music literally appears out of nowhere as muted drums slip into consciousness. Soon, low, angry brass and piano lumber into the mix inciting the strings to slide into somewhat more industrial sounds from Sofia Gubaidulina’s percussion-rich kitchen. At last, the flute—truly seul and brooding—takes stage. From there, the wondrously alluring tone and liquid legato that are hallmarks of Sharon Bezaly’s skills try to tame the multi-headed beast that has been awoken from its slumber in deep, dark niente.
The hope for a meeting of the minds and a magically orchestrated ride is soon dashed by searching chromatics and then large doses of perfect fourths as well as—tellingly—contrary motion.
The soloist tries everything available to all of her incarnations (most beautifully the lowest flute of all interacting with a finely controlled tuba and a solo cello whose change of register is truly memorable) from scolding the chattering strings to topping Prokofiev’s fabled bird (intriguingly, the Russians master’s flute and string colourization—surrounded by even more drum—seems entirely appropriate even as the last gasp of busy scales fails to lift the mood from doom to victory).
With so many moments of recurring lines and breathtaking colours unable to find the symbolic sweet spot of consonance and inner calm, the final utterance most certainly had to be a fading shower of unmelodic metal.
Conductor Mario Venzago does an excellent job of keeping everything together, allowing Bezaly complete artistic freedom and keeping the drama as taut as could be imagined. Choreographers in search of fresh material might well turn their attention to this work.
Not quite as successful is Mari Takano’s three-movement essay for flute and strings. “Chicago,” with some intriguing tinges of chaos and foreboding never quite settles into its groove although the jazzy bits are fun and finding Charles Ives lurking in the “orchestrational” weeds is a welcome surprise. Similarly, “The Only Flower in the World” lacks cohesion and has a few untidy ensemble moments whether plucked or bowed; conductor Anne Mason and her charges seem just one rehearsal away from surety. “Walking” unleashes Bezaly’s technical skills; it’s a near Perpetuum Mobile, allowing the nimble soloist just a few measures’ rest when she’s asked to switch instruments. The cadenza-with-commentary is a fine bit of writing even as it leads to a jaunty waltz, a delightful bit of Bach and splash of multiphonics. The strings try valiantly to follow Bezaly’s invigorating lead right the way through to the sudden finish, which—while intentional—doesn’t manage to a bid a proper adieu to all that came before.
Sally Beamish’s highly programmatic Callisto, is a triumph of tone production, facility of range and ever-convincing phrasing. Bezaly soars through the score employing three flutes and a piccolo. “Callisto and Juno,” with its dreamy, cool opening, wrath of the brass and dramatic discussion with the timpani over a bass pedal satisfies most. “Callisto and Diana” builds somewhat unevenly to its massive climax (without the program notes, it would be difficult to fathom the narrative); conductor Martyn Brabbins does a fine job balancing his on-stage forces while sound engineer Jens Braun captures every measure with clarity and an ideal presence. “Callisto and Arcas” is notable for several stellar interventions from the solo violin and a clever bit of writing that wisely lets the piccolo “warm up” before being thrown into the trilling fray.
Flute enthusiasts and those with a sense of musical adventure will want to make room in their collection for this trio of twenty-first century compositions. JWR