Sunday, June 03, 2007

Kansas City Symphony: Emmanuel Pahud Flute

"Wow"! Said the ticket taker(is there a more technical term for that job??) at the Lyric Theatre last night, "Director Circle row A seats 9 and 10, best ones in the house! Enjoy!!"

Thanks to the generous donor of the tickets, I did certainly enjoy the Kansas City Symphony's penultimate concert of the season, featuring Emmanuel Pahud on flute.

Opening was Prokofiev's familiar and popular Symphony # 1 "Classical". Written in 1917 but formally more like 1817, this bubbly, tune filled standard can sound perfunctory, like a parody of 2nd class Haydn, if the director is not careful. Certainly not the case last night, as this was far from a routine performance. This was brilliant playing; the clear, bright texture and balance bringing out the Russian humor and color along with Haydn's formal clarity. I heard details that I had never heard before, most notably a wonderful antiphonal passage between the first violins and violas in the Larghetto. The wonderful clarity brought out some of the more acerbic harmonies as well, giving the piece a deliciously spicy flavor. The winds and strings were beyond reproach, the prominent bassoon parts admirably executed by Ann Bilderback, were a highlight. Revelatory would be my final assessment.

Emmanuel Pahud has been anointed successor to Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway (in fact as was Galway, he served as principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic)as the reigning flute virtuoso. Pahud's tone is huge and strong, able to project above just about anything the orchestra throws at him. Last night's performance of Ibert's witty, jazzy Flute Concerto was stunning, virtuosic yet lyrical. The outer movements bubble along with jazzy nervous energy (think Roussel or Ravel's G minor Piano Concerto) contrasted with a Gallicly dry central Andante. The agile, though not large, orchestra kept busy, serving more as a protagonist than accompanist to the almost continuous flute solo.

Pahud and the orchestra also turned in a beautiful and charming performance of Mozart's sweet Flute Concerto in G K313. Elegant and well paced, perfectly showcasing Pahud's lyrical abilities and warmth. The enthusiastic audience demanded an encore from Pahud, a sensuous, languorous Syrinx by Debussy.

One thing, the program notes' "For The Record" recommended recordings column states that Pahud had not recorded the Ibert Concerto. Actually he has, in 2003 with Zinman on EMI coupled with Rampal's flute transcription of Khachaturian's Violin Concerto.

I adore Debussy's La Mer. Introduced to it as a teen, I was immediately drawn in to Debussy's nautical soundscape. Unfortunately, land locked Midwest born and bred, I had only a lake or two to satisfy my love of the water. La Mer transported me to the wild and vast ocean, giving me a taste of a sailing life. I vividly remember my first sailing adventure in the Pacific in 2000. I hummed the main theme of the "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" while basking in the glory of the deep blue water and the vast white sails.

That aside, the performance last night was simply superb. Noted especially was the colorful and solid contributions of the brass. Long the weakest link in the symphony, the brass were in control, never overwhelming and tonally spot-on. I asked Maestro Stern one morning as I met him in the hall of our building if he was going to use the cornets in "La Mer". "Of course!" he replied, I later apologized for asking such a stupid question. The subtle use of the cornet was pointed out to me by the person who introduced me to La Mer years ago. "A performance without them is simply just not the same, avoid them", Herb admonished. Their bright, brassy sound, as used in some of the climaxes, indeed provides a satisfying coarsening of the texture that adds to the drama. The strings and winds provided a misty, fluid feeling,contributing to the overall success of the performance.

Colorful, moving, detailed with out being fussy, this performance rivaled any that a major orchestra could do. The KCS simply reaches new heights with every performance.

Next week's season finale: Bartok Concerto for Orchestra and Brahms celebrated Piano Concerto # 2 with Marc-Andre Hamelin.

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