It seemed as if every flute player in the region was in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater Friday night for the recital of flutist Emmanuel Pahud with pianist Alessio Bax, presented by Washington Performing Arts. Pahud, who is Franco-Swiss, has been the principal flute with the Berlin Philharmonic since 1992. In terms of both virtuosity and artistry, I haven’t heard another flutist who comes close to him. The concert was thrilling.
Pahud is refreshingly free of affectation and exudes consummate ease onstage. His phrasing is unfailingly clear and precise, buoyant, shapely. He has an acute sense of ensemble. He and Bax were always at the same place at the same time, in perfect unanimity of gesture and intent. Pahud’s rich, full sound, produced seemingly effortlessly, is a pleasure to listen to. But it is the variety he brings to that sound, vividly responsive to the expressive dictates of the music, that kindles the magic of his playing.
Francis Poulenc’s witty, sophisticated 1957 Flute Sonata was delivered with a light touch, though Pahud probed the slow movement to reveal a heartbreaking sense of desolation that cast the piece in a new light. The delicate melancholy of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata was invested with great character, highlighting its classical proportions and structural cohesion.
Following Bax’s rather humorless reading of Dallapiccola’s “Annalibera’s Musical Notebook,” Pahud took a solo turn in Matthias Pintscher’s “Beyond (a system of passing),” a piece he premiered in Salzburg in 2013. An exploration of every conceivable way of producing sound from a flute — successively ominous, outrageous, menacing, funny and never less than virtuosic — it was the tour de force of the evening. A brisk, exhilarating performance of a transcription of Mendelssohn’s F major Violin Sonata rounded out the program. Pahud, ever the musician’s musician, commanded the audience’s rapt attention throughout.