Concert Review: Crystal clear flute work

The flute festival 1st Flute Camp Singapore, organised by The Flute Studio, opened with a recital by the Crimea-born virtuoso Denis Bouriakov, presently Principal Flautist at New York City's Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Beginning with J.S. Bach's Sonata In E minor (BWV.2013), originally for violin and harpsichord, he brought out a finely articulated performance at the Esplanade Recital Studio on June 13 with crystal-clear sonority in its four varied movements.

Whether overcoming technical exercise-like figurations, easing a singing line or enlivening dance rhythms, he exhibited a natural and unforced facility that distinguished the entire programme.

In Philippe Gaubert's Nocturne & Allegro Scherzando, he readily shifted gears, from its dreamily impressionistic prelude to a teasing elfin dance, delighting in its scampering syncopations and lightly jinking movements. This was just a foretelling of the more fearsome showpieces to come.

Sergei Prokofiev's Flute Sonata is well-loved in flute circles as its violin version (fashioned later as Violin Sonata No.2 for David Oistrakh) is with violinists, but this is the original. With both instruments occupying almost identical registers, it is easy to see why the work's bittersweet lyricism and mercurial turns so captivate both groups of musicians.

Aided by Beatrice Lin's sensitive yet wide-striding pianism, Bouriakov's flute made child's play of the popular warhorse. By no means is the work readily accessible to most players, it is just that he made it sound easy, even in the perpetual motion of its scherzo and the finale's bounding surge of adrenaline.

The second half was devoted to just one work, Bouriakov's marvellous arrangement of Jean Sibelius's evergreen Violin Concerto In D minor. However the transcription has yielded to the original here. The violin's mysterious pianissimo that emerges from the ether at the outset is far less apparent on the flute, and its mellow and genteel timbre is often outmatched in the slashing stakes by its stringed rival.

Nonetheless Bouriakov kept to the work's spirit by retaining every measure while slightly reworking the cadenzas.

It was still fascinating to see how he managed all the thorny bits, always coming out unscathed and even raising the roof when the flute blazes to its highest audible reaches. The romping finale, cannily described by British scholar-critic Donald Francis Tovey as a "polonaise of polar bears", came like the impassioned flight of an arctic bird.

The applause was justly deserved, and the audience was rewarded with a lovely transcription of Lensky's Aria from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. It was another piece to keep listeners captivated for the rest of the evening.

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