Katherine Bryan - Liebermann Flute Concerto - Winds

The debut recording by rising star Katherine Bryan features four melodic 20th century works for flute and orchestra, comprising two familiar and two lesser known pieces.  This is a quality line up.  The prize-winning flautist is joined by the orchestra in which she has held the principal flute chair since the age of 21, under the precise and sensitive direction of conductor Paul Daniel.  The CD is released by Linn Records, recently named label of the year in the 2010 Gramophone Awards.

Previously unknown to me, the Liebermann Concerto proved to be a sparkling showpiece that would not be out of place in the cinema.  With a tradtional three movement structure, the flute sings, bird-like, above lush strings in the first, conjures up a magic land (or possibly a Disney soundtrack) in the second, and is confident with dazzling semiquaver passages in the third.  Listening to the conventionally tonal music, it is hard to believe that this is by far the most recent of the four works, written some 35 years after Poulenc, 65 after the Nielsen, and almost a century after the Huë.

The impressionistic Fantaisie by Huë evokes a pastoral scene, perhaps an amble through the French countryside.  This is flamboyant and tuneful, with chromatic runs and soaring lines and phrases.  In a similar zone to fellow countryman Fauré's Fantaisie, this is a perfect demonstration of the different facets of the flute's character.  The orchestral writing is colourful and effective, something that is lost in the alternative version available for flute with piano accompaniment.

The familiar Poulenc Sonata appears here in a less familiar version, a sympathetic orchestration by Lennox Berkeley, originally for James Galway.  The inspired orchestration changes the relationship between the flute and its accompaniment, with its expanded palette of colours, transforming the piece into a fabulous concerto.  The flautist's tone and style is well suited to this work, with its haunting melodies and unexpected twists and turns between major and minor, maintaining perfect control in the slow movement's long lines and with nimble fingers flying in the exuberant finale.

The CD concludes with a sensitive interpretation of the Nielsen Concerto, a personal highlight of the flute repertoire, where the beauty of the writing is matched by that of its performance.  This is powerful writing for solo instrument and orchestra.  The contrasting melody that emerges midway through the first movement is heartbreaking in its simplicity and interpretation here, while the cadenza presents the flute in all its glory.  The second movement has some wonderful interplay between soloist and orchestral instruments, urgent trills and chromatic runs for the flute and great balance and colour from the orchestra.

The virtuoso programme displays the instrument's versatility, with long flowing lines contrasting with staccato register leaps and double tonguing.  Katherine Bryan plays with beautiful control, a centered tone and warm vibrato, full and rounded on the lower notes, sparkling and shimmering in the upper register.  Although technically difficult, all the music is easy on the ear and should appeal to a wide audience as well as being of specific interest to flautists.

01 December 2010