Adam Walker & James Baillieu at Wigmore Hall

Introduction and Variations on ‘Trockne Blumen’, D802
Bartók, arr. Arma
Suite Paysanne Hongroise
Le merle noir
Sonata for Flute and Piano

Adam Walker (flute) & James Baillieu (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 7 February, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

YCAT continues to provide the young classical artists of today with a solid platform from which to grow, though it could be argued that Adam Walker and James Baillieu are the finished article already. Walker is principal flute with the London Symphony Orchestra, having been appointed at the age of 21 in 2009. James Baillieu is a regular accompanist and chamber-musician, displaying in previous concerts at the Wigmore Hall a natural ability for listening and responding to others.

Both performers delivered an intelligently programmed recital with considerable style and flair, beginning with a substantial work by Schubert. The variations are on ‘Trockne Blumen’ from the song-cycle Die schöne Müllerin. The solemn introduction gave an idea of the structure. As the Variations became more daring and playful Walker and Baillieu warmed to their task; the fifth section sparkled, Walker negotiating some tricky jumps in register. In the slower Variations the flute line was graceful and the piano accompaniment limpid.

James Baillieu. Photograph: Oxford LiederSuite Paysanne Hongroise is an arrangement by Paul Arma of Bartók’s 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs. While not all of the melodies fall completely naturally for the flute it is effective in capturing the essence of Bartók’s settings, some of which would surely have been played on pipes or closely-related wind instruments in their original form. Their stop-start nature was attractive in this performance, the ornamentations and inflections of the melodies easy and enjoyable. When a drone appeared in the piano part Baillieu showed commendable care in keeping good balance, while the shrill fourth ‘song’ found Walker playing loudly but still controlling the quality of sound.

Messiaen’s Le merle noir followed. Here the parallels with Ravel were vivid in the clarity of the flute line and the ‘watery’ piano accompaniment, beautifully played by Baillieu; indeed the second section bore a passing resemblance to Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte. The short Vocalise, seemingly an arrangement of the work completed for voice and piano in 1935, featured softly oscillating piano harmonies and a soft, pure hue that found Walker totally at ease.

Poulenc’s much-loved Sonata completed the recital, with fast tempos and crisp ensemble. Both musicians had a clear understanding of each other’s roles, so that when Baillieu led off in the finale the urgency was infectious. Walker’s breath control on the stepwise notes of the second movement was impressive, while the tumbling theme with which the work begins was a delight on every appearance.

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