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CD Review

Ibert / Khachaturian

Flute Concertos

Emmanuel Pahud, flute
Tonhalle-Orchester, Zürich/David Zinman
EMI Classics 57563 DDD 63:56
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In time, this might be known as Pahud's "Blue Album." The flutist sits on a blue floor wearing a blue jean jacket. Someone even has given his hair blue highlights. All this blueness is in contrast to the pallor of his complexion and the beginnings of a beard and mustache. (Mr. Pahud's stylist is not identified.)

All kidding aside, here's another fine CD from a flutist who has given us superlative recordings of music from the Baroque and Classical eras. Khachaturian's "Flute Concerto" is really just Jean-Pierre Rampal's arrangement of the Violin Concerto, of course. (Rampal had asked Khachaturian for an original work, and after decades of nothing to show for his request, Rampal finally took matters into his own hands.) One way of interpreting it is for the flute to mimic the violin; Rampal, to a certain degree, did that when he played and recorded this work. Pahud's strategy is to highlight the differences – not the similarities - between the violin and the flute. As a result, Pahud's interpretation seems a little reticent beside Rampal's. Refinement replaces folkish freedom. In its original version, this concerto sometimes seems a little coarse and obvious, but in Pahud's hands, that accusation can't be made.

Jacques Ibert ("Jackie Bear," to some English-speaking listeners!) wrote his Flute Concerto a few years earlier than Khachaturian's Violin Concerto. This is unmistakably a work written for the flute, and unimaginable on any other instrument. The soloist chirps, swoops, and soars. The music is all charm and very little muscle. Pahud also plays it a little coolly compared to famous predecessors – it's more redolent of ancient Greece than of the French countryside. Having said that, one has to praise Pahud for giving us an alternative, not an echo.

The accompaniments have plenty of personality. I've praised Zinman's Beethoven and Richard Strauss discs with the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, and I have no reason to rescind my high opinion here. This is an antidote to the generalized playing one hears from most of today's orchestras, most of the time. Zinman is an understanding conductor, and if the orchestra's sound is not quite right for these concertos, at least it's never run of the mill.

The engineer could have warmed up the sound a little. Apart from that, the engineering is excellent.

Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle