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  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • Warner Classics / 56m

Alongside his prolific film career, Alexandre Desplat has written various concert works, including a ballet and most recently an opera, which premiered earlier in 2020. In late 2018 he conducted the Orchestre National de France in Paris in a concert of his music which included two concert works alongside film music – “Airlines” for solo flute and a sinfonia concertante, “Pelléas et Mélisande”, for flute and orchestra. They both make their recorded debut on this album, which is a recording taken from the concert.

Desplat is himself a flautist and so it was natural for him choose that instrument as the focus – “Pelléas et Mélisande” was written for Jean Ferrandis but interpreted here by Emmanuel Pahud. The three-movement work highlights a great deal of fluid interplay between soloist and orchestra. The first movement, “Comme un oiseau pourchassé”, has a thunderous opening and while it does calm down, there is undoubtedly a large swathe of Desplat’s cinematic flair running through it: he says quite openly that while he enjoyed the freedom of composing without an image, he found using Maeterlinck’s play as an inspiration for the piece’s dramatic arc was very helpful. A remarkable horn fanfare midway through is an obvious example of this.

Desplat and Pahud

The second movement, “Ils regardent la lumière”, is much calmer and more reflective – Pahud’s playing evoking a glittering sensation, technically challenging and extremely beautiful. The final movement, “Rosée de plomb, inexorables ténèbres”, sees a couple of melodies playing off one another – a slightly playful air to one, the other more serious – and strong tension is created at times as a result. Fans of the composer’s film music will notice more than a hint of Valerian at times as the orchestra swells.

It’s a serious piece of music with a lot of nuance alongside some grand theatrics – there is great flair in the final movement in particular – and shows the depth to the composer’s talent, as he skilfully builds some orchestral fireworks while keeping the flute the centre of attention. Unsurprisingly it isn’t as immediately accessible as the best of his film music, but really you wouldn’t expect it to be and it’s a very satisfying work.

The much briefer “Airlines” is the other concert work – this piece was written specifically for Pahud and his virtuoso performance is a delight. With no orchestra accompanying him this time, his technique is even more in evidence: the flute dances around while simultaneously painting with broad dramatic strokes, beautifully evocative.

As if that weren’t enough, the album has another side, which is a series of freshly-arranged (at the time) suites for flute and orchestra of some of Desplat’s film music. The two highlights, which bookend the album, are his two Oscar-winning scores – a three-part suite from The Shape of Water flows so beautifully; and the delightful Grand Budapest Hotel is so charming and witty.

In between come the wonderful theme from Lust, Caution and suites from the two scores which really announced Desplat to the world as a film composer of remarkable talent, Birth and Girl with the Peal Earring. They both remain amongst his finest achievements and sound fresh and vibrant in these new arrangements.

The performance and recording are both flawless (Desplat’s trademark precision is not diluted at all in the concert hall) and obviously any fan of the composer should get the album. While it focuses on works for flute and orchestra, there remains a variety of both emotional and dramatic feelings throughout and it’s a beautiful album to just sit and listen to over and over.

Rating: **** | |

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