Sharon Bezaly / Valur Palsson / Hávardur Tryggvason / Bernhardur Wilkinson

Haukur Tómasson: Flute Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Skima

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Sweden's BIS label has issued a series of recordings centered loosely on the idea of rediscovering virtuosity; many of them contain concertos, either contemporary or from the early twentieth century. Perhaps the concerto was once thought to be a form in decline, along with the magnificent individualism it was thought to represent. But if this was ever true, such performers as Israeli-Swedish flutist Sharon Bezaly, a true virtuosa and a mistress of circular breathing, have revivified the concerto idea. Here she is heard in two concertos by the contemporary Icelandic composer Haukur Tómasson, separated by a concerto for two double basses and orchestra by the same composer. The Flute Concerto No. 2 has already been recorded by Bezaly for BIS (on the album Nordic Spell), and indeed one can see why this repertoire could begin to evolve organically rather than vanishing in a series of single-performance premieres. The booklet notes may put listeners off with its talk of golden sections (you can find those anywhere if you look hard enough) and Fibonacci series (better for rabbit breeders than for music listeners). Tómasson's music is dense in texture and full of small events that go by quickly, but its basic outlines are clear and fresh, and the three pieces are diverse while still maintaining a common personality. The most intriguing work on the program may be the opening Flute Concerto No. 1, in a single movement that does not have the feel of several movements joined together. The conception of the solo instrument's role here is unique. The flute and orchestra are very closely woven together, with a structure (although not a tonality) somehwat reminiscent of that of Indonesian music -- the flute often performs elaborated versions of the slower material in the orchestra. The relationship shifts several times, and only in a central interlude does the flute emerge as a solo "voice." The Flute Concerto No. 2 makes greater use of extended techniques on the flute and consists of five short movements, each exploring ramifications of a basic texture; annotator Árni Heimir Ingólfsson likens the middle movement to that of Schoenberg's Klangfarbenmelodie (sound color melody) in the Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16. The central concerto, Skíma, for two double basses and orchestra, calls for scordatura tuning of one of the solo instruments, although that would be hard to pick out from the murky environment. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Bernhardur Wilkinson is fully the equal of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra heard on Nordic Spell, and the sound engineers make the complex orchestral textures transparent. Anyone remotely connected with a serious aspiring flute soloist should hear this disc, and listeners attuned to the rigorous yet often crowd-pleasing music of contemporary Scandinavia will enjoy it as well.

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