Spellbound = GUBAIDULINA: …The Deceitful Face of Hope and of Despair; MARI TAKANO: Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra; BEAMISH: Flute Concerto, “Callisto” – Sharon Bezaly, flute/ Gothenburg Symphony/ Mario Venzago, conductor/ Swedish Chamber Orchestra/ Anne Manson, conductor/ Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ Martyn Brabbins, conductor – BIS 1649, 73:46 ***1/2 [ Distr. By Qualiton]:
A new release by Sharon Bezaly is always an event—the woman has such a complete command of her instrument(s) that even a C-major scale can be made to sound like high artistry. She has also done a lot for the flute commission-wise, and here we have three concertos by composers of some renown that have written for Bezaly specifically.
Sofia Gubaidulina is now pushing 80, and still seems incapable of writing anything but oh-so-serious music. The woman is highly regarded and maintains a mystical aura about her, but her music often fails to translate into something that most people want to return to, with some exceptions. This concerto is based on a T.S. Eliot poem Ash Wednesday from which the title is derived. Gubaidulina believes that the tone that originates from two intervals, a pulsating sound that evolves into a tone, is a metaphor for hope, whereas the slowing down of the pulsating “difference” tone leads to the disappearance of the sound, a metaphor for despair. So this work is based on the acceleration and deceleration of the pulse of the sound web and its gyrations back and forth—hope and despair. Sound confusing? It is? Can this explanation be heard in the music? A little bit. Do we care? Not one bit. This piece, like any other, must be judged by its ability to engage the listener, and I am not at all sure that this one does. Even the flute part seems more of an afterthought. But Gubaidulina’s fans will no doubt love it, and it does have some interesting moments.
Mari Takano is a young female composer who studies with Gyorgy Ligeti, but has embraced enough different musics to be considered a genuine eclectic. Her three movement concerto is titled “Chicago” (based on her time in the city in the tense weeks before the outbreak of the Iraq war post-911), “The Only Flower in the World” (borrowed from a Japanese pop song) wonders what it would be like for people to one by one join in singing with each other in a polyphonic texture like flowers in the wind. “Walking” is an optimistic, jazzy movement that serves as an answer to the first movement. This is a clever, rewarding work that will reward repeated hearings.
Sally Beamish is a familiar composer whose music has been successfully performed all over the world. “Callisto” referring to the Nymph Callisto in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as translated by Ted Hughes, uses four members of the flute family (piccolo, flute, alto, and bass) to tell her story of transformation from nymph to hunter to victim to bear to constellation. The composer actually calls it a “mini-opera”, and it does have a connected feeling to it that is always nice when hearing new music. Though Beamish’s music is almost always tonal it can still be difficult, and this one is no exception, but again, it will reward repeated hearings.
The sound is typically BIS, unfortunately not SA, but there you have it. Bezaly is a wizardress, garnering important commissions that you need to have the opportunity to judge.
— Steven Ritter