After a series of recordings including "Paris" and the Mozart flute concertos, Emmanuel Pahud has gained renown for the delicacy and silkiness of his tone. Consequently it was something of a surprise for me when i listened to this collection, in which Pahud is clearly exploring the darker sonorities of his instrument. The repertoire itself - including Debussy's Syrinx and an arrangement of his Billitis suite, Ravel's Chansons Madecasses and Prokofiev's flute sonata - is on the whole characterised by bleak, sinister, and often violent expression.
The really pleasurable and exciting thing about this recording is the way he draws out these sinister elements from the mentioned repertoire with a sense of poise and balance that holds everything in check. Thanks to Pahud's extreme (and highly French) musical sensitivity - and of course his dizzying technique - one never feels that he crosses the boundery into the excessive or melodramatic. Take for instance his performance of Syrinx: despite a very understated vibrato, a relatively restrained use of dynamics and a relaxed, spacious tempo, he nevertheless captures the intense despair and anguish belying Debussy's famous composition. Ravel's "Chansons madecasses" is, in my opinion, the highlight of the album, an exquisite display of all that is unique to Pahud's musicality: the interpretation of the first song, "Nahandove", is almost overpowering in its oddly seductive combination of restraint, clarity, tenderness and irony. The miraculous combination of performers solidifies this complex balance, each one aware of the need for unintrusive vibrato and phrases that gently caress as they wind their way through ravel's piquant harmonies. His performance of the prokofiev is similarly notable for its subtlety and tenderness, but, in the second and fourth movements, Pahud reveals his ability to produce explosive power throughout the range of the instrument, proving that, contrary to popular belief, the flute is more than capable of producing the violent, relentless expression this piece demands.
Still, this recording is not for everyone. It is not a collection of heart-rending, moving melodies, nor a whirlwind of emotional states, and certainly not a conventionally pretty, easy-listening affair. But it is subtle, ironic, seductive, deceptive, and witty. Pahud is to be praised for continuing to prove that the flute is an essentially French instrument.