Flute Mystery - Beynon / Ashkenazy
2L 2L-058-SABD (2 discs)
Fred Jonny Berg: Flute Mystery, Warning Zero, Pastorale, Vicini alla Montagna, Flute Concerto No. 1
Emily Beynon (flute)
Catherine Beynon (harp)
Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor)
Only the full symphony orchestra can impose the true emotional dynamics of the arctic nature. FLUTE MYSTERY is a collection of five orchestral works by Norwegian composer Fred Jonny Berg. In this distinctive and dynamic surround sound recording, the Philharmonia Orchestra with Emily & Catherine Beynon as soloists on flute & harp are conducted by the legendary Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Vladimir Ashkenazy: I am very fond of Scandinavian mentality, the way people express themselves and their spiritual world. It has always been a very special treat for me to conduct and play Scandinavian music and it is a particular pleasure to introduce to the world a very talented Norwegian composer Fred Jonny Berg whose music in its own way is a genuine reflection of his world.
Berg's music is often described as melodious, accessible and dramatic, yet with a highly original quality. Berg himself tries to explain: It is really as simple as it is complicated - I breathe in what life has to offer, and breathe out what I have to offer life. I have given up trying to grasp what actually happens in the process from impression to expression. In his music Fred Jonny Berg reveals himself as a person who has experienced that life consists of light and dark, but unlike the majority of us he approaches both with a similar undaunted decisiveness; it adds an extra quality to his music: the conviction of an eyewitness.
Review by John Miller - May 23, 2009
2L have successfully experimented with true surround sound recording (beyond capturing ambience) in several of their previous issues. But here is their most ambitious project yet, involving no less than London's Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy (tracks 1, 5-8) and Fred Johnny Berg himself (tracks 2-4). In the well-respected and excellent acoustic of the Watford Colosseum in Hertfordshire, the 2L team seated the orchestral departments in great arcs or a full circle around the microphones, using different seating plans for nearly each piece of music.
Fred Johnny Berg's music is ideal for this 3-D style of performance. He is something of a musical polymath, composing in an extended form of neo-romanticism, but using modal, diatonic and polytonal harmonies, emotional melodies and an extra-ordinary craftsmanship in developing novel orchestral and instrumental textures which are often ravishingly beautiful. Although the orchestral forces in several of these pieces are large, he deploys them with great economy of means, small groups and solos performing like chamber music. There are relatively few massive tuttis, which, when they come, are overwhelming. In this practice he reminds one of late Mahler.
2L's extensive booklet details graphically the various orchestral seating layouts, which themselves show Berg's acute feeling for sonic texture. At times, for example, he alternates the cellos and basses' desks in single block; in another arrangement the cellos and basses revert to separate blocks. A highly unusual grouping has flutes and oboes sit amongst the violins, clarinets amongst the violas, bassoons and horns amongst the cellos, and a tuba sits in the double bass block. All of these dispositions have clear musical reasons, but it must have taken some time for even the very professional players of the Philharmonia to settle down to such unusual seating plans. But settle down they obviously did, for their playing is simply superb, captured by fairly simple microphone layouts and hi-res technology. The violins are alluringly sweet with a lovely bloom, basses and cellos dig in and produce remarkable depth of tone, the brass gleam and blaze when required and woodwind are tangy, agile and eloquent. The Philharmonia are thus in their very best form for Berg and Ashkenazy, and we must conclude that these are definitive performances, as Berg was present at the sessions as co-executive producer with Morten Lindberg.
The titular 'Flute Mystery' (with Ashkenazy at the helm) is a kind of tone poem, mostly pellucid and tranquil but endowed with great lyrical warmth, although wistful and deeply introverted at times. It features a harp solo on more or less equal terms with the flute, cushioned by the strings who provide a slowly moving and rapturous harmonic tapestry like an elegant dance (which brought to my mind Debussy's 'Danses sacrée et profane'). Emily Beynon, first desk flautist of the Concertgebouw and Catherine Beynon, Principal Harpist of l'Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg are the fluent and empathic soloists in this contemplative and peaceful 'Mystery'.
Catherine Beynon returns for Fred Johnny Burg's new Flute Concerto, of which she is the dedicatee. This is a substantial and fascinating piece, beautifully written for the instrument and for a surprisingly large orchestra, including an organ, glass harmonica and harp, but again with great delicacy and reticence. The four movements bear titles which convey their moods, or perhaps their personality: 'Memento', 'Reminiscence', 'Obituary' and 'Awakening'. A feature of the work is Berg's frequent use of eloquent silences, which heighten its emotional impact. There are also some sonically spectacular passages, such as the opening of 'Memento', with rumbling deep pedals and climbing bass ostinatos from organ, harp, basses and cellos; an oriental atmosphere being added by the ethereal glass harmonica. Also memorable and impressive are the furious tremolos of all the strings in a huge climax towards the end of the assertive but capricious 'Obituary'. The final 'Awakening' is once more graced by the glass harmonica, this time joined by tubular bells and some pastoral merry-making. However, deep unease is expressed by the solo flute in its hard-edged flutter-tonguing, like sardonic comments on the dance of life itself. Ashkenazy and Emily Beynon commune deeply, revealing many subtle emotional facets in this Concerto.
To my mind, Berg's Flute Concerto is a delightful yet thought-provoking piece and a significant addition to the flute repertoire, perhaps the more because the solo part, although technically demanding, does not dominate the proceedings as in most classical examples of the genre.
Other pieces by Berg on offer are of intensely visual nature. A brief but hauntingly lovely 'Pastoral' and 'Warning Zero', a tone poem seeming involving a burlesque of militarism which spectacularly assails the listener with an extended brass and wind orchestra configured like a military band. 'Vicino all Montagna' abstracts and delineates landscapes in music. It is based on a soundtrack for a film of the same name. A final view of the eponymous mountains reveals with full orchestral colours their true uncaring and implacable nature, despite the comedic antics of the peasants who live near them.
Thanks to the packaging of both Blue-Ray and SACD discs in a Blue-Ray box, there is an ample and well illustrated booklet, garnished with photographs including several session shots. Morten Lindberg (also recording producer and balance engineer) contributes a short essay advocating the greater use of multichannel in the service of music. Remarkably, a booklet reference to Fred Jonny Berg's website allows one to download and print full scores of these works, a most generous and possibly unique facility. It meant that I was able to follow scores within a few hours of receiving the discs, almost impossible with contemporary works, where full scores are prohibitively expensive and difficult to find.
In passing, I have to remark that the Blue-Ray disc carries a stereo PCM track (24/96) and a DTS Master Audio 5.1 track (24/96); the latter sounded impressive and I enjoyed watching a background movie of the Aurora Borealis while listening to the music (the last time I watched this spectacle, it was in Arctic temperatures!). Despite its apparent origin as 24/96 PCM, the sound on the SACD disk is just stunning. Its surround arrangements are well-thought out and thoroughly musically justified, greatly complementing Berg's uniquely compelling voice and providing the listener with an involving experience of being inside Berg's music. The stereo mix is as good as it could be, but the extra dimension, of course, is only available on MC. For those who worry about such things, I rarely caught Ashkenazy's usual vocal contributions, and he was at some distance from the main microphones.
A thrilling and significant issue from 2L - this project was carefully planned, executed magnificently and perhaps will come to be recognised as a milestone in the further development of full surround sound on SACD. Others, including BIS and Tacet, might be encouraged to further their own surround productions.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - June 20, 2009
Playing any 2L disc for the first time is often like the start of a new sonic and musical adventure, particularly as here when the composer Fred Jonny Berg is, to this listener anyway, an unknown quantity.
The aptly named ‘Flute Mystery’, the work that opens this programme, has an ethereal quality and immediate appeal due to its strong melodic content and transparent orchestration (flute, harp and strings). The outstanding principal flute of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Emily Beynon, and her sister the harpist Catherine Beynon play this ravishing piece with consummate skill, while Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia’s accompaniment is wonderfully refined.
The composer conducts the three pieces that follow, and though possessing widely different opus numbers, they are similar to one another in style. All three could be movements from the same orchestral suite or film score.
Berg’s short and bracing Tone Poem ‘Warning Zero’ provides a huge contrast with the tranquillity of ‘Flute Mystery’. Again it is quite tuneful and brilliantly scored, with brass, saxophones and glockenspiel being particularly prominent, while its militaristic overtones and sudden changes of mood imbue it with the quality of a cinematic narrative. ‘Pastorale’ is a short trifle that sounds as if it should be just the introduction to a much longer work and is over almost before it has begun. ‘Vicino alla Montagna’ shows Berg’s undoubted talent as a film composer. Much of it is reminiscent of some of the film music of Nino Rota in its buoyant gaiety whilst depiction of mountain peaks is confined to the heavy brass and percussion. Though each of these three pieces shows the composer’s melodic gift and imaginative orchestration it must be said that none of them linger for long in one’s memory.
The most impressive work on the disc and also the most recently composed is Berg’s Flute concerto Number 1 played here by its dedicatee Emily Beynon. This four movement concerto received its premiere in London as recently as February 2009.The music presumably has a programmatic dimension as each of the four movements is given a title – ‘Memento’, ‘Reminiscence’, ‘Obituary’ and ‘Awakening’.
’Memento’ begins with a quite long orchestral introduction before the flute enters. There is a poignant sadness to the music with the flute integrating with the orchestra, rather than contrasting with it, for much of the movement. ‘Reminiscence’ opens with a long and contemplative cadenza before the strings of the orchestra steal in and the flute muses on the main theme over shimmering tremolando strings for the rest of the movement. ‘Obituary’ is a quirky recitative for the soloist interspersed with strong orchestral statements while the finale, ‘Awakening,’ with its magical opening of harp and tubular bells over soft string chords, effectively brings this most reflective and un-showy of concertos to a tranquil conclusion.
The Philharmonia Orchestra respond once again with sensitivity and flair to Askenazy’s direction proving that they are still one of the finest British orchestras.
Those listening in 5.1 surround will be amazed by 2L’s resplendent recording that captures the renowned acoustic of the main auditorium of Watford Colloseum as probably never before. 2L and the composer have here used surround sound in a totally imaginative and un-gimmicky manner to enhance the listening experience. The booklet notes include diagrams showing the three different orchestral layouts used for these recordings. They are hardly required; such is the vividness of the images created in one’s listening room.
This is a most impressive release.
Copyright © 2009 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net