Friday 14th November, St Mary’s Church on Paddington Green, London
Chamber Music in Little Venice series

I came to this recital with a very good idea of what I’d be focusing on for the entire evening, and thankfully was proved totally wrong. Both flautist Wissam Boustany and pianist Aleksander Szram make a big deal of the fact that they perform from memory, to the point of it becoming a bit of a calling card for them. While I’m still not sure that it needs to be a key point in one’s biography, I was pleasantly surprise that the memory aspect didn’t dominate my concert experience. Far from it – though the memorisation of such a program is amazing, the music was the most amazing part, as it should be!

Boustany chose a challenging program, featuring both the hair-raising Ballade by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinu’s Sonata No. 1. These were stunning performances, with the clarity of bell-like high notes in the final movement of the Martinu a particular highlight. Boustany’s sense of melodic arc was apparent throughout, and while the storytelling was often aided quite a lot by his eyebrows, the sound nevertheless soared in the small church. For the most part delicately phrased and showing keen ensemble with Szram, the opening Sonata in Bb major by Beethoven felt at times to be something of a warm-up, as Boustany’s high notes were somewhat strained.

However, the stand-out pieces on this program were not the standards but the less well-known works. Boustany’s own composition – Broken Child for flute and piano – showed strong Middle-Eastern influences in its musical language and was utterly compelling. Deeply mournful, the flute was used to draw out rich tone colours with beautifully subtle inflections of sound. For the recital’s final work, the duo were joined by violist Karen Norlén to perform Maurice Duruflé’s Prélude, Récitatif et Variations Op.3. This is a gem of twentieth-century chamber music, and it was a pleasure to her such a thoughtful, compelling rendition. The Récitatif theme was beautiful in its simplicity, and Norlén’s rich tone added an wonderful depth to the performance.