This was a programme torn strongly in opposite directions: on the one hand lay the superlative artistry of both flautist Emmanuel Pahud and pianist Yefim Bronfman; on the other was the sheer unsuitability of the transcribed works – those by Schumann, Brahms, and Mozart. Indeed, not enough can be said to endorse the artistry of either Pahud or Bronfman, both of whom are effortless virtuosi and thoughtful players. Furthermore, their partnership is ideal: both share a glorious sound, which is by turns expansive, warm, full, and perfectly controlled. But, as became apparent, there is only so much a flute can do.

Emmanuel Pahud, © Lou Denim
Emmanuel Pahud,
© Lou Denim

As an entrée came the Three Romances by Schumann, originally written for oboe, but also existing – with the composer's endorsement – in versions for clarinet and violin. Already the fault-lines in such adaptations for the flute began to show, as Pahud was continually forced to stand back from the music, necessitated by his good taste, so as not the force the sound. The first three works all suffered in such a way, their 'indigenous' instruments possessing greater natural strength, particularly in the low register, and a generally more generous sound. And that's not to say that Pahud does not have a magisterial command of either the flute's dynamic range or tonal palette – he does. But it is still a flute; and these works, written as they were for more 'red-blooded' instruments, fail to stand on their own feet when realised on their more gentle transverse colleague.

The most unidiomatic rendering was the Brahms – an arrangement of his Clarinet Sonata in E flat major, Op. 120 no. 2 – which was marred by the fact that at every corner, owing either to the slighter range of the flute, or its dynamic limitations, the original had to be rehashed, with phrases spliced, throwing one part into mid-air, whilst bending another uncomfortably round an ill-fitting corner. Bronfman's pianism was beautiful, as was Pahud's flute playing, but it inevitably sounded more like coquettish parlour music, rather than sensuous Romanticism.

And if the Brahms suffered because it could not work, the Mozart, conversely, suffered because it could. Very little had to be done to adapt this melancholy violin sonata for the flute, and a lot of it sounded plausible. Indeed, its second movement – a haunting minuet – must not be tarred by this condemnatory brush, for both Pahud and Bronfman found sounds so unimaginably hushed that captivation was inevitable. Instead, the problem here was that, whereas the violin's strength in the low register is very natural, to achieve this on the flute requires superhuman skill, the resulting sound being akin to a turbo-boost, rather than the effortless strength of the violin, which is demanded by the music.

The Prokofiev, however, was simply terrific. The only work originally conceived for the flute on the bill, it towered head and shoulders above its anaemically rendered counterparts. Ironically, the great violin virtuoso, David Oistrakh, on hearing the première of this sonata in Moscow in 1943, immediately asked Prokofiev to transcribe it for violin, the resultant re-imagining forming Prokofiev's second violin sonata. And Pahud used a few of their ideas to bolster and further enliven the flute part, which he played with unsurpassed lyricism and strength, in equal measures. Bronfman performed an equal role, finding colossal strength and a powerful sonority, particularly in the finale, where his warhorse-like solo filled the generous acoustic of the Wigmore Hall. Here, then, was an example of a work that allows the flautist to exhibit real strength, and play to its character, from the deft second-movement scherzo, to the slinky and chromatically-steeped third movement, just because that is how it was composed. It was sad, therefore, that this concert felt a little like a wasted opportunity, as it became painfully apparent where the flute need not stray.