July 31, 2011 5:59 pm

Emmanuel Pahud, BBC Proms, London

Who knew there were so many flautists and their supporters among the BBC Proms audiences? The Royal Albert Hall was packed for this concert given by Emmanuel Pahud, joint principal flautist of the Berlin Philharmonic, even though he was playing two challenging new works and had left the rest of his Berlin colleagues at home.

The outstanding performers of the day have a duty to support new music and it brings enrichment for their followers when they do. Mstislav Rostropovich, the great cellist who died four years ago, was a world leader, giving the premieres of more than a hundred works, and it is good to see Pahud leading the way for the flute – especially with a pair of concertos as contrasted as these.

The Flute Concerto by Marc-André Dalbavie was written for Pahud to a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic, who gave the premiere in Berlin five years ago. It is a restless, impatient piece. A gunshot from the orchestra marks the off and the flute is away, running up and down arpeggios or sliding along slippery runs of scales. Sometimes he bats small groups of semiquavers back and forth to members of the orchestra, like a fast-moving table-tennis match. The concerto inhabits its own very French-sounding world of colours and textures, though when the pace drops, the content sounds thin and the moto perpetuum is soon welcome back.

The Flute Concerto by Elliott Carter, written to mark the veteran composer’s 100th year, was given its premiere by Pahud in Jerusalem in 2008. This is a very different proposition. The sound-world here is spare and rather arid, leaving the soloist free to occupy the foreground with long, expressive musings, while small chamber-orchestra sized groups of players comment drily in reply. The material is less obviously appealing than the Dalbavie, but Pahud made the solo part such an outpouring of beautiful, lyrical playing that it seemed hardly less of a showpiece than Dalbavie’s virtuoso speed test.

On either side of the two concertos, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under conductor Thierry Fischer played two Beethoven symphonies, Nos. 1 and 7. As with everything else in the concert, these were well-rehearsed performances, positive, lively, with ideas of their own and not a note wasted.

4 stars

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