Aldo Baerten, flute; Stefan De Schepper, piano

Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London, October 5th

I seem to be getting along to a lot of Belgian flautist Aldo Baerten’s recitals (this is the third), and have now also had the opportunity to hear him play a piece twice! This performance, given at the Royal Academy of Music in London as part of the British Flute Society (BFS) Premier Flautist Series, was my favourite so far, mostly due to an engaging and varied program that showed off Baerten’s musicality and technical prowess on the flute.

Baerten opened with J.S. Bach’s Partita in C minor, BWV 997, and, while the performance was sprightly and imbibed with character, I felt that it was the low-point of the recital. It seemed like a bit of a warm-up for the soloist, and in many ways the stylistic understanding of pianist Stefan De Schepper  were more consistently visible. Of particular note, Baerten chose to start both slow movements incredibly softly, to the point that it made me rather nervous for him as an audience member!

The unquestionable triumph of the program was Hindemith’s Sonata, which I also heard Baerten perform at the 2013 Australian Flute Festival, and seems almost to be his signature work. Here, the sprightliness evident in the Bach came into its own, particularly in the concluding Sehr Lebhaft-Marsch, where it really did feel like the performers were just having fun together. Baerten has an impeccable control of pianissimo high notes, which this work gave him ample opportunity to demonstrate to sensuous effect. The colours created in these moments were utterly stunning.

I was pleased to see that Baerten had mixed Bach with more contemporary repertoire, programming two of Kurtag’s Signs, Games and Messages as well as a very new work, Suite for flute and piano, by Belgian composer Robert Groslot. I’m a fan of Kurtag, and particularly these little miniatures, and was delighted to hear them performed live. Hommage à J.S.B, in particular, was rendered with wonderful attention to the musical contour. The Groslot, while admirably performed, didn’t entirely hold my attention. Moments, in particular shimmering internal section of the Metamorphosis movement where flute and piano threaded in and out of each others’ sound, were fascinating. However, the whole was a bit pastoral for me, and lacked any logical compositional direction through the movements.

Baerten concluded with a flute and piano arrangement of Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, a bold undertaking considering that most of the audience were flautists! Both his and De Schepper’s sense of colour was stunning, encapsulating the sweeping orchestral sounds of Debussy’s original. However, Baerten did take rather a lot of rhythmic liberty in the solo passages, and I was not the only flautist in the audience distracted by this.

The recital was followed with a short question-and-answer session, which I found engaging and insightful. I hope to hear Baerten (and hopefully some more twentieth-century works) very soon!