Site review by ramesh October 11, 2005
|Comparative review of flute concertos with Telarc SACD 60624.
The Bis disc is on special promotion.
The flautist Sharon Bezaly, of Israeli origin was new to me, but according to the booklet, has already achieved a sizable discography on Bis. She plays a modern, 24 carat gold flute; and the orchestra is a chamber one with modern instruments. The Telarc SACD has Jacques Zoon, an ex-prinicipal of the Boston Symphony. The Telarc disc is an all period instruments version, coupled rather unusually, but very generously, to the 'Jupiter' symphony. The Telarc was recorded in DSD; there is no information on the Bis. The Bis disc has two shorter single movements which complete Mozart's corpus of works for flute and orchestra. Zoon's cadenzas are his own, in general period style. Bezaly uses provocative and intriguing flourishes by Kalevi Aho, which commence as parodies of nineteenth century passagework, but spin into various modernist currents. They sound better than I can describe them. Some listeners may recall the rebarbatively modern cadenzas Schnabel composed for his recordings of the Mozart concertos. These are nothing like as jarring, since Aho gracefully eases the listener into progressively more contemporary arabesques, and very distinctive and appealing they are.
I compared Bezaly's recording to modern instrument versions, by Rampal in the 1960's on Erato, and Galway's 1995 RCA recording with Marriner and the ASMF. Bezaly is an incredible artist, who deserves to be compared to these two masters. RCA, conferring star status to Galway, seem to have had a penchant of recording him rather closely, as they also did to Rubinstein and Heifetz. This made him seem to have a jumbo sized flute, which picked up a lot of breathing sounds. By contrast, Bezaly and her orchestra are recorded slightly more distantly, the flute integrated into a better perspective with her colleagues. Her tone is beautifully pure, not least due to the wonderfully clear high frequencies of the recording, and it is a joy to hear such extension of the higher harmonics. At the time I bought Galway's CD, I thought it was of near demonstration quality, but playing both this and the earlier Rampal CD, back-to-back with the Bezaly SACD shows the outstanding high frequency extension of the latter. The Telarc SACD lies in between the Bis SACD and the CDs for this, but this isn't due to any technical limitations of the recording: the replica wooden flute he uses doesn't have the plush higher harmonics of the modern bespoke instrument; the Telarc DSD recording has a smidgen greater sonic ease than the BIS.
Galway arguably has a plummier and fuller lower register, but this may be partially due to his closer recording, as the lower frequencies may not carry as well as the higher ones. However, Bezaly's playing is incredibly agile, with minimal breathing sounds compared to Galway. One can barely hear where she breathes. To characterise her, I would say she's like a Kiri Te Kanawa of the flute, for the sound generated sounds more vocal than instrumental. Her quick runs are like limpid pearls, the tone liquid, without any notes out of place in terms of volume or intonation. There's really nothing much more to say, except this extends for the entire disc, and the general impression is of flair, even charisma, but without superficiality.
The speeds of Bezaly and Zoon are broadly similar, quick in the period instruments manner. Both Galway and Rampal are slower and more gracious ( some would say more regal ) in the slow movements. These are marked as 'Adagio ma non troppo'. Incidentally, the marking in the Telarc disc of K 314 as 'andante' would appear to be a typo. Bezaly is about a minute-and-a-half brisker at 8:33 in the adagio of K 313, a big difference. My preference musically for Rampal over Bezaly implies no conclusive artistic superiority of the Frenchman, these two and Galway make equally convincing cases for their performances, though Rampal's more gracious tempi allow for more eloquent, less streamlined phrasing. There is no doubt that Bezaly is the more exciting of the trio, abetted by her innovatory cadenzas; Rampal preferring older style rococo elegance, if I may put it this way. The Swedish orchestra sounds slightly smaller than Marriner's Academy, the style of phrasing in the former's tuttis having more similarities to the Telarc period instruments, than to their modern instrument counterparts.
It is invidious to prefer either the Telarc or Bis SACDs, as they are not strictly comparable. The Bis is less than half the Telarc's price, but for the latter you get an alert, excellent, though not magisterial performance of the 'Jupiter'. If you want a demonstration disc of woodwind high frequencies, but more importantly, of great music, you would have to search long and hard to better the Bis. Why not get both?