Sharon Bezaly dazzles with an unusual program

The latest release from flutist Sharon Bezaly (number 35 by my count) doesn’t seem to have a very attractive program — at least on paper. The disc contains an arrangement of a work for flute and orchestra, plus two not-so-very-different versions of the same concerto.

But music isn’t about words, it’s about sound. And once I started listening, I quickly revised my opinion.

Sharon Bezaly has been named one of the best flutists in the world many times over by critics — and with good reason. Her tone is pure and warm, with rock-solid pitch control. And her musicality is first-rate; she manages to make each work her own while seemingly transparently conveying the composer’s intentions. This release is no exception.

Aram Kachaturian completed his violin concerto in 1940, and it’s an arrangement of this work that opens the program. But it’s not just an arrangement. In 1968 Jean-Pierre Rampal, with Kachaturian’s blessing, transcribed the solo part for flute. Rampal also provided a new cadenza as well. Bezaly’s performance is brimming with energy and good spirits and ably assisted by Enrique Diemecke and the São Paulo Symphony.Orchestra.

The rest of the album consists of the 1975 Flute Concerto by the late Einojuhani Rautavaara — both versions. The original version of the concerto features four different flutes; the standard flute, the piccolo flute, the alto flute, and the bass flute. Rautavaara gives each instrument its own character. Not only do the timbres of the different flutes provide contrast, but the music itself changes whenever the soloist switches instruments.

Bowing to repeated requests from flutists, Rautavaara revisited the work and eliminated the bass flute, a somewhat rare instrument (compared to the other flutes). He reassigned the part to the alto flute. This revised version finishes up the album. It’s a rare opportunity to compare two versions of the same work side-by-side. Bezaly’s performance is pretty consistent, as is Dima Slobodeniouk’s conducting of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, The playing times for the two versions differ by only six seconds.

Even though I went back and forth between the two versions many times, I didn’t hear any major differences. The bass flute, because of its lower range sounded much darker and more somber than the alto flute in comparable passages, but I found the alto flute version just as satisfying musically.

In either version, it’s a stunning concerto and one that seems tailor-made for Bezaly’s talent. Her command of all the instruments is impeccable. I was particularly impressed with her performance with the piccolo. It never sounded shrill, even in rapid passages at loud volume levels. Somehow she kept the tone rounded and, well, musical.

An unusual program for sure, but one I found deeply satisfying as a listener. Beautifully recorded and beautifully performed.

Sharon Bezaly Plays Flute Concertos by Khachaturian and Rautavaara
Sharon Bezaly, flute
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra; Enrique Diemecke, conductor (Khachaturian)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra; Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor (Rautavaara)
Aram Khachaturian: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra
Einojuhani Rautavaara: Flute Concerto, Op. 69 “Dances with the Winds”; original version for four flutes; revised version for three flutes
BIS Recordings BIS-1849

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