Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra is no stranger when it comes to working with world-renowned soloists – their earlier collaborative roster includes the likes of Sviatoslav Richter, Menuhin, Rostropovich et al, but their rapport with Emmanuel Pahud is something that transcends musical partnership and wanders into the organically-knit companionship territory. The program chosen for this evening kept one foot firmly rooted in staples of Baroque, while stretching its legs wide enough to reach lesser-known works from later eras.

Emmanuel Pahud with Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra © MPR
Emmanuel Pahud with Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra
© MPR

In the absence of the orchestra’s artistic director János Rolla, the concertmaster duties were handed to Péter Tfirst, who cued a small subset of the ensemble for Bach’s inimitable G major Brandenburg Concerto to start off the evening. The Allegro of the simplest (and my personal favorite) of the Brandenburgs was taken at a leisurely moderato tempo, with each instrumental group taking their turns and effectively executing their solo parts aided by the razor-sharp continuo from the contrabass and harpsichord. This concerto is particularly interesting to listen to in a live environment because you never know what the performers have in store for the enigmatic Adagio: Will they just play the two chords and get it over with, or will they play us something special? In tonight’s case, the harpsichord played by Levente Gyöngyösi, offered something very special in the shape of a lengthy solo cadenza, which gave way to a highly energetic Italian-style finale.

Emmanuel Pahud’s ingress into the evening was in the shape of the brief, but muscular, Vivaldi Flute Concerto in F major. Along with Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, now taking their full presence on stage, Mr Pahud exhibited tremendous breath control, particularly during the Allegro’s short 16th-notes and Vivaldi’s signature short bursts of rapid solo phrases.

The Abdelazer suite, Purcell’s incidental music to Aphra Bewn’s 1676 play The Moor’s Revenge, showed the orchestra at their collective best as they presented a stern, Grave opening and a tragic Rondo, quickly morphing themselves into shape to play the quirky Airs and a very elegant Minuet followed by a hectic Gigue. Their pulsing togetherness throughout the suite was cemented by Bence Dániel Horváth’s pointed bass, giving the performance a proper dance quality.

Next up was quite an atypical choice: Frederick the Great’s Flute Concerto no. 3 in C major. Having appeared previously in Emmanuel Pahud’s CD, The Flute King, this piece – along with Frederick the Great’s other musical output – was written at a time when his friendships with composers J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, as well as J.J. Quantz, were in full bloom. Modeled after C.P.E. Bach’s forms and enriched by Quantz’s technique for writing for the flute, the king’s concerto offers little in the way of musical invention or originality, but instead caters to the flutist’s technical abilities. The piece, nevertheless, seemed lightweight for Mr Pahud’s abundant technical powers. Of special interest was the middle Grave section written at an almost funeral-march tempo. The movement’s solemn melody was given a highly emotive reading by the soloist, who took his time to state every sentence in full detail.

For me, the evening’s crowning moments came during Frank Martin’s Ballade no. 1 for flute, piano and small orchestra. Although written for two solo instruments, this neoclassical piece, which was composed for a flute competition, features the flute exclusively as the soloist, with the piano taking accompaniment duties. Mr Pahud felt right at home in his countryman’s sometimes lyrical, sometimes spasmodic work. The orchestra complemented the flutist competently during the work’s long jumps in the register and they, too, adapted the ever-changing tone of Martin’s work without a hitch. Emmanuel Pahud showed exceptional brilliance in the scintillating vivace coda, for which he received a deserved loud round of applause from the audience.

After the orchestra’s appropriately light-handed take on Mozart’s Divertimento in F major, K138, Mr Pahud appeared on stage once again, this time to deliver a chief show-off piece for his instrument: Mercadante’s Flute Concerto no. 2 in E minor, Op. 57. Fashioned after the French concerti of the time (and, in my opinion, bearing some structural resemblance to Chopin’s E minor Piano Concerto, which came later), this heavily ornamented work opens with an extended orchestral introduction. The flourishing melodies of this section were played with in high-octane drama by the orchestra, thanks to their’s successful efforts at creating a deep contrast between the first and the second themes. Mr Pahud’s graceful restatement and elaboration of the themes broke the stern air giving way to a balanced, fair-minded development section. The flutist’s cadenza of the Maestoso movement was played with hair-raising emotion as well as precision. The orchestra and the soloist finished off the evening with a yearning Largo, followed by a lively Russian rondo.

Emmanuel Pahud, overcame with adamant applause for an encore, obliged and mesmerized the audience once again with a highly personal take of the Bach Badinerie.

****1