Katherine Bryan - Silver Bow - MusicWeb International

Katherine Bryan is best known to Scottish audiences as principal flute of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. She has star quality to her performances that I often notice during their regular Friday nights at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. Her solo career is blossoming too, and it’s a nice treat to have this disc of famous showpieces for orchestra and solo violin, here transcribed (by Bryan herself) for solo flute.

The Lark Ascending is a bold choice with which to begin such a disc, but I actually thought it the most successful piece of them all. Quite naturally, there is a breathiness to the flute line that you don’t get with the violin, and for me that added to the sense of the natural world that the sound has, as if capturing even better the “aerial rings” of Meredith’s poem. A gentle summer breeze runs through this performance, the rising air following the lark upwards, seeming to weave in and out of the orchestral sound.

The other slower pieces on the disc all sound lovely, too. Massenet’s famous Meditation floats skywards, similarly to Vaughan Williams’ lark, and has a beautifully air-bound feel to it. Saint-Saëns’ Romance is also very winning, and Kreisler’s Liebesleid has a lovely tripping quality to its rhythm. Only the Gadfly Romance sounded a bit threadbare to me, though that may be more due to Chris Hazell’s orchestration than to Bryan’s arrangement. František Drdla’s Serenade feels like a stroll on a sunny day.

It’s the virtuoso showpieces that really make you sit up and take notice, though. Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso opens with a lovely sense of mystery, helped by the flute, but enters the Allegro with strutting confidence that feels delightfully contained. Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen is a stunning way to end the disc, beginning with a knowing nod to the swaggering Gypsy style as the nineteenth century heard it, and then suddenly taking wing for a fantastically exciting fast section. Most impressive of all, however, is Bryan’s own adaptation of Paganini’s famous 24th Caprice, which is quite stunning in its leaps, jumps, roulades and even its impressions of pizzicato.

The booklet notes give a brief insight into Bryan’s arranging process. The orchestra provide marvellous accompaniment, supporting one of their own with the aural equivalent of a warm hug. Essential for flute buffs, warmly recommended for the rest of us. The disc is an SACD, but it is also available from Linn as a Hi-Res download. Both sound fantastic.

MusicWeb International
15 October 2015