Sharon Bezaly's Spellbound serves as an installment among a number of BIS releases whereby the label assists in commissioning new works by contemporary composers for the young Israeli-born flutist to play. In this case, all of the pieces are by women of widely ranging generations and backgrounds; Sofia Gubaidulina, of course, is the venerated Russian composer whose early work was supported by Shostakovich, whereas Sally Beamish is English and noted for concertos, chamber music, and her close ties to Scotland -- she is a couple of generations younger than Gubaidulina. Still younger is Japanese composer Mari Takano, who studied with György Ligeti and makes judicious use of electronics and sampling within her work and has a decidedly post-postmodern take on music. While the title might indicate a concept, really this is a sum-of-its-parts project as opposed to a whole.
Gubaidulina's ...The Deceitful Face of Hope and of Despair is one of the finest and most restrained works that Gubaidulina has yet made; this recording has already appeared, along with Gubaidulina's Sieben Worte, on a BIS disc. Cast in a single movement, Gubaidulina's concerto is restrained and deliberate in the extreme; Bezaly doesn't even make her entrance until the piece is underway by some five minutes, and she does so in a wispy, low-register range that at first doesn't even sound like a flute. However, the soloist gets plenty of time in the 30-minute work, which is colorful, tense, and mysterious, with its slowly climbing strings and brass and palpitating percussion. Takano's concerto likewise is built in tension at its start; subtitled "Chicago," it was inspired by the pre-Iraq War tension in Chicago where she was teaching at the time. The first movement resembles Charles Ives' string textures in The Fourth of July, and Takano does not shy away from the typically lyric and diaphanous melodic lines usually associated with the flute, although she sometimes employs them in a wry context, mixed in with more aggressively rhythmic figures. The more graceful figures take over in the second movement, and here it is the string complement that is misbehaving a bit, lapsing into microtones and pizzicato here and there. In the third, high spirits and jazzy rhythms are the dominant elements in the profile; Takano has an uncanny ability to temper her seriously intended music with just enough humor to raise a smile, rather than to inspire dread or depressiveness, and this is a delightful concerto that does not lack a healthy amount of challenge and unorthodox techniques.
Sally Beamish's music, however, is on a more obviously serious tack; her concerto Callisto was inspired by the mythical figure in Ovid, by way of the translation by poet Ted Hughes. The Callisto Flute Concerto is described by Beamish as being a "mini-opera" as different instrument and instrumental groups portray specific characters within the myth, although on the other end it might sound more analogous to modern dance than to opera. Callisto has both lyric moments and tougher, more dramatic ones, and it is a well-considered work while superficially sounding a little like Leonard Bernstein. While Spellbound may be an uneven program that does not wrap itself up quite so tidily, one does appreciate that BIS is doing what it can to stimulate the cause of flute literature in the twenty first century and Bezaly easily acquits herself in every bar of this music.