With lustrous tone and an abundance of dramatic flair, flutist Emmanuel Pahud presented an engaging program of music by Debussy, Boulez, and Prokofiev last night at Bowling Green State University. Pianist Eric Le Sage accompanied.
The evening opened with Debussy's “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” an 1894 work written to serve as incidental music to Mallarme's pastoral poem of the same name. Pahud rendered the famous opening melody with extreme poise, perfect stillness, and acute clarity of tone. The performance by both musicians was extremely lovely throughout.
But, that said, reducing the shimmering timbres of Debussy's magnificent chamber orchestra to piano left a hollow feeling. It was as if one were looking at some magnificent outdoor scene through a window. The shapes were delineated, but the subtleties of color, of touch, and smell, were no longer available.
More Debussy followed, but this time the musicians did solos.
Tall and angular, Le Sage has a matter-of-fact, work-a-day look to him when he addresses his audience. He is almost awkward. Yet, when he plays, the sounds that emerge dance with grace, charm, and intellect. Le Sage gave a fleet and dashing performance of “L'Isle Joyeuse.”
In contrast, Pahud seems in character at all times. If occasionally a bit brusque in aspect, the compactly built musician was always determined to project his strong persona. After the opening line of Syrinx, Pahud seemed to scan the audience as if to discern just what we thought of it.
Or perhaps he was looking to visually scold anyone not paying attention.
If the latter, one suspects he found few laggards in the auditorium. The playing was simply too interesting to ignore. Sandwiching many beautiful moments within the performance was a closing pianissimo of extraordinary control and beauty, the like of which, I suspect, will prove to have inspired every flutist in the auditorium to dedicate many hours toward trying to weave the technique into his or her own performance arsenal.
Pahud challenged listeners again after intermission with Boulez's 1946 “Sonatine.” This angular serial music is a tough sell for most any audience, but Pahud and Le Sage seemed unconcerned.
The evening closed with Prokofiev's 1943 “Sonata in D Major.” Music best known in the violin transcription was made a year later. Pahud made a convincing case that the flute version deserves greater airing.