Flute's purity is too much of good thing

January 27, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The flute is a symbol in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" of male virility, and it has been associated historically with lusty male performers from the goat god Pan to James Galway. But as an orchestral instrument, the flute's high, white sound suggests purity; the flute is the perpetual ingenue of the orchestra -- its ice princess, if you will.

In her solo recital last night in Friedberg Hall at the PeabodConservatory, Emily Controulis did not entirely escape that second reputation. Controulis, the principal flutist of the Baltimore Symphony and a professor at Peabody, has a focused, lovely sound, sure musical instincts, a secure technique and a virtuoso's confidence. But everything began to sound a little bit too much like everything else.

This was apparent in Katherine Hoover's "Medieval Suite for Flute and Piano." That the sections of the piece -- with titles such as "The Black Knight" and "The Drunken Friar" -- conveyed different emotions was more evident in the superb playing of Julian Martin, Controulis' collaborator, than by the flutist herself.

The most satisfying playing came in Edward Loder's Schubertian Sonata for Flute and Piano. Controulis and Martin did not miss a turn in any of the sonata's mischievous meanderings. Controulis' style was also well-suited to the neo-classical, almost Honegger-like "Sonate en Forme de Suite" of Jacques Casterede. Her playing was eloquent, supple, chaste and energetic.

The last work on the program, Brahms' Sonata No. 2 for Clarinet, was simply inappropriate in a transcription for the flute.

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