It was a spellbinding journey. One man and a flute on the stage, with a near capacity audience in the 1600-seater concert hall. A programme of 70 minutes, without interval, that took us back and forth across the centuries. The intensity in the hall, palpable from the beginning, increased further as the programme unfolded. It was like a theatrical experience although there was no scenery, no props, only a single spotlight on the performer (and a bottle of water). Who could pull off such a daring performance with so much confidence but the super flautist Emmanuel Pahud?

Emmanuel Pahud
© Michiharu Okubo | Tokyo Opera City Cultural Foundation

In fact, this concert was titled “Emmanuel Pahud SOLO Vol 3”. This unique project started back in 2017, when Tokyo Opera City suggested an unaccompanied solo programme in their acoustically magnificent Takemitsu Memorial Concert Hall, and its success led to Vol 2 in December 2019. The concept of his programmes has been to mix Baroque and contemporary works and present them seamlessly. In 2017, he traversed solo repertoire from Marais to Widmann and Pintscher, and in 2019 from Telemann to modern classics such as Varèse, Berio and Carter. Vol 3 continued the Telemann thread, taking six of Telemann’s Fantasias for solo flute, but juxtaposing them with mostly cutting edge modern pieces composed for Pahud in recent years.

He began the journey with the somewhat melancholic B minor Fantasia by Telemann. Although in multi-movement form, the fact that it is a fantasia means it is less formal than a sonata, giving Pahud the liberty and scope to explore each of the pieces in a spontaneous way. Here and in the other fantasias too, his articulation and phrasing were clear and expressive, often emphasising a particular note or rhythm at his leisure, and adding embellishments in the repeated sections. The graceful ornamentation in the sarabande-style Affettuoso in the E major Fantasia, the precision of the virtuosic passages in the opening Allegro of the G major Fantasia, or the vivid echo effects in the rondeau finale of the B flat major Fantasia — Pahud made sure he projected these details to the last row of the large hall.

If the Telemann pieces had a leisurely, wandering feel, the modern pieces in between were intense, focused and at times explosive. The five pieces he chose were compositions by Boulez, Montalbetti, Manoury, Desplat and Jarrell and, with the exception of Boulez’s Memorial (1985), the works were all composed for Pahud, which means that often they are fiendishly demanding.

Emmanuel Pahud
© Michiharu Okubo | Tokyo Opera City Cultural Foundation

Éric Montalbetti’s Memento Emmanuaile (2019), based on his flute concerto for Pahud, was atmospheric with rising and falling gestures and various extended techniques. Philippe Manoury’s Soubresauts (2020, also condensed from a flute concerto) was full of explosive energy, while Michael Jarrell’s Le Point est la source de tout (2020) was relentlessly virtuosic. At one point Pahud seemed to be playing fast passages at the speed of light, and it was simply jaw-dropping. Meanwhile, Airlines (2018) by Alexandre Desplat, widely known as a film composer, provided a little breather for both flautist and listeners. Although it starts with short breathy phrases, in the melodic sections Pahud’s sound seemed to float gently into the ether.

Pahud has said in a previous interview that the beautiful architecture and the acoustics of Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall give him inspiration and enable him to perform with the dynamic range that the pieces require. Clearly he was enjoying filling this space with his warm, sonorous and focused tone, but it was also amazing how clear his softest playing could also be heard from afar. The richness of his tonal range was displayed in Debussy’s Syrinx given as a final encore – a dreamy end to his SOLO journey.

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