Notes and Editorial Reviews
Flute Sonata in b,
Flute Sonatas: in e,
Flute Sonata in F,
Sharon Bezaly (fl); Charles Medlam (b vdg); Terence
BIS 1689 (67:46)
If you are a woman, you will know what I mean. You know that friend of yours, who is slick, elegant, shapely, eats like a shark but never gets fat, looks gorgeous in any style of clothing, from the hippie patchwork skirt to the Armani suit? And who is so nice that you cannot even get mad at her? Well, Sharon Bezaly is the musical equivalent of that character. She has amazing technique, enticing tone, uncanny breathing capacity, and nothing—absolutely nothing—seems too hard for her. Having written a profile of this fabulous performer for
a while ago, I have heard almost everything she has recorded so far, and must confess my awe at her rare talent and the sheer genius of being able to “wear” any style without looking (well, sounding) uncomfortable in it. She is particularly good at making contemporary music palatable to the average listener and attractive to other flutists, a very noteworthy feat, indeed.
So the release of her CD containing exclusively Baroque music could not help but pique my interest. Of all the composers Bezaly has recorded so far, the only ones about whose interpretations I had mixed feelings were the Baroque ones. She apparently feels that they are the ones who present her with perhaps the hardest musical challenges, and this recording is proof (if proof were needed) that she does not shy away from challenges.
As one can imagine, the Bezaly hallmarks are all there: the absolutely riveting technical prowess, the liquid tone, the impeccable intonation, the clear tonguing, and the natural gift for phrasing. The choice of pieces is first-rate, and Bezaly had the intelligence to surround herself with two of the very best specialists in early music today, harpsichordist Charles Medlam and gambist Terence Charlston, members of the group “London Baroque.” The ensemble is tight and admirable in every way, with the three musicians moving together as if they had but one soul. The six sonatas flow easily and enchant the ear, and Bezaly even tries her hand at ornamenting, with passable results.
If there is something amiss, it is exactly the excessive smoothness of the playing that turns each sonata into an undisturbed, flowing river of sound. These pieces have more drama than one could initially suspect, more terseness and intensity. The performance is almost too pretty, too behaved, too—well, too perfect. The ever-present vibrato is another reason for the excessive regularity of sound that doesn’t quite work for this repertoire. Also, appoggiaturas and main notes are always too even, so the “leaning” effect frequently described as sighs ends up being more ornamental than gestural. Sometimes the tempos are chosen with an ear more attuned to create an aura of liveliness and virtuosity than to stress the dance character of the movement (as in the third movement in the B-Minor Sonata by Handel, played strikingly
). And frequently, passages that should be an effort to the flutist (such as the chromaticisms and large intervals of the Bach sonatas, which are quite hard to produce on a Baroque instrument) lose poignancy when played with total ease and assuredness. A final gripe: circular breathing is an impressive technical device, but should be used sparingly. In the case of Baroque music, it simply is not necessary. It is not the flutist who needs the breaths, but the listener. Like poetry that demands punctuation, the writing of the period, with the shorter phrase-lengths that are so characteristic (even in Bach), suffer, rather than gain, from an uninterrupted rendition.
Granted, these are all minute details that only a Baroque instrument freak like me would mention. I am walking a very thin line here, risking the same politically incorrect stance as the one incurred by Emperor Joseph II when he complained to Mozart that his music contained “too many notes.” But it is exactly my utmost respect for this excellent artist that obliges me to give my sincere opinion. Finally, the weird cover art, tasteless title (“Barocking Together”? Please!), and non-matching photographs of the artists—couldn’t anyone have taken a decent picture of the three of them together, during a rehearsal?—do not do justice to the contents of the CD or to the interpreters’ undeniable charm, and will certainly keep many listeners at bay. The CD is still beautiful, and a must for any modern flutist or any lover of this repertoire.
Our Editor always asks us to give our readers alternate choices of recordings when writing a review. In this case, comparisons are difficult, since no one has recorded quite the same repertoire. But considering that Bach comprises the bulk of the CD, you might want to check out two radically different releases. On the modern flute, but also accompanied by Baroque specialists, flutist Philippa Davies (with Maggie Cole on the harpsichord and Alison McGillivray on the cello) has recently recorded a gentle sample of Bach (Avie 2101). And if you want to hear a grittier version of Bach on the traverso, my choice is still the highly personal performances by Ashley Solomon, with the same excellent Terence Charlston on the harpsichord (Channel15798).
FANFARE: Laura Rónai
Works on This Recording
Flute Sonata in B minor, Op. 1, No. 9, HWV 367b: I. Largo
Flute Sonata in B minor, Op. 1, No. 9, HWV 367b: II. Vivace
Flute Sonata in B minor, Op. 1, No. 9, HWV 367b: III. Presto
Flute Sonata in B minor, Op. 1, No. 9, HWV 367b: IV. Adagio
Flute Sonata in B minor, Op. 1, No. 9, HWV 367b: V. Alla breve
Flute Sonata in B minor, Op. 1, No. 9, HWV 367b: VI. Andante
Flute Sonata in B minor, Op. 1, No. 9, HWV 367b: VII. A tempo di menuetto
Flute Sonata in E minor, BWV 1034: I. Adagio ma non tanto
Flute Sonata in E minor, BWV 1034: II. Allegro
Flute Sonata in E minor, BWV 1034: III. Andante
Flute Sonata in E minor, BWV 1034: IV. Allegro
Flute Sonata in A major, BWV 1032: I. Vivace
Flute Sonata in A major, BWV 1032: II. Largo e dolce
Flute Sonata in A major, BWV 1032: III. Allegro
Flute Sonata in E major, BWV 1035: I. Adagio ma non tanto
Flute Sonata in E major, BWV 1035: II. Allegro
Flute Sonata in E major, BWV 1035: III. Siciliana
Flute Sonata in E major, BWV 1035: IV. Allegro assai
Flute Sonata in E flat major, BWV 1031: I. Allegro moderato
Flute Sonata in E flat major, BWV 1031: II. Siciliano
Flute Sonata in E flat major, BWV 1031: III. Allegro
Der getreue Music-Meister: Recorder Sonata in F major, TWV 41:F2: I. Vivace
Der getreue Music-Meister: Recorder Sonata in F major, TWV 41:F2: II. Largo
Der getreue Music-Meister: Recorder Sonata in F major, TWV 41:F2: III. Allegro
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