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Rather oddly, Peter Oundjan’s express intention for the RSNO in the opening concerts of their new season felt a bit lopsided on Saturday night. The RSNO music director wanted to “show off” the orchestra through its programmes. To a degree he did that. Until hell freezes over, I will maintain Wagner never wrote a passage of counterpoint to rival what he achieved in the development section of The Mastersingers Overture, played at the weekend with intensity and clarity by the RSNO.
And if what is required to give Rimsky-Korsakov’s fabulous Scheherazade its wide-screen sweep, its rich colouring its rivetingly-worked narrative and it’s no-nonsense, down-to-earth, “get your hands off me, you swine” attitude is what Oundnian, leader Maya Iwabuchi and the RSNO lavished on the great sea-picture on Saturday then everyone should be happy.
But the truth is the main event on Saturday was not an RSNO performance per se, but the extraordinary performance by principal flautist Katherine Bryan of the Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto, which stole not only the show, but everybody’s heart. What a masterpiece this concerto is: 21 years old and one of the great concertos of the late 20th century, played with astounding insight, maturity and aching intensity by this remarkable young musician.
They would not let her go. Repeatedly she returned for more applause. She signed cds at half time. At the end there was another queue and she kept signing. Bryan has intellect and comprehensive musical resource, including expressivity, in endless supply. She is a great musician, a wonderful communicator and a treasure to the RSNO.
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Music for flute and orchestra Katherine Bryan (fl), Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Paul Daniel
LINN RECORDS CKO 367
Lowell Liebermann's Flute Concerto was written in 1992 for James Galway. It's tonal, rich and colourful with a dash of Korngold's Hollywood and Shostakovich's Russia - though perhaps more of the former. Contained within is variance and complexity, not least in the tour-de-force finale, Nielsen's classic concerto and an orchestration of Poulenc's Flute Sonata complete the bill.
Katherine Bryan became the RSNO's Principal Flute aged just 21 and her clarity of tone - unfettered by intrusive vibrato - easy virtuosity and dynamic sensitivity must have bagged her the job. She plays the Liebermann as if she's considered the direction and purpose of every phrase. Now and then you might crave a little more projection or go-for-broke emotion, but it's technically watertight. Accompanying, Bryan's own orchestra showcases its other talented woodwind players (including the 'other' flutes) and trademark tightness of ensemble. Linn's deep but sharply-focused sound is thrilling, and in the sonata by Poulenc both soloist and orchestra atmospherically release all the mystery associated with the flute.
Like Mozart, I'm not the flute's biggest fan, but this is a recording I'll be keeping: the Liebermann is an exciting discovery; the Poulenc has bags of atmosphere and the combination of Bryan's tone and Linn's engineering mean the Nielsen's a real contender, too.
It has to be Liebermann. Try his two Piano Concertos, played by Stephen Hough on Hyperion (CDA 66966).
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