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Young Concert Artists: Dóra Seres

With perhaps half the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater filled on Tuesday night, 26 years old flutist Dóra Seres, the 2005 Young Concert Artist International Competition winner took the stage in a program with a highly entertaining selection of works ranging from the romantic (Carl Maria von Weber) to the contemporary (Lowell Liebermann) touching on several composers that are – outside the flute repertoire, at any rate – esoterica (Carl Reinecke, Siegfried Karg-Elert, Paul Taffanel).

Carl Reinecke’s 1885 “Undine” sonata for flute and piano was first. A virtuosic, romantic narrative on Undine’s adventure, it is appealing enough as absolute music; and good that it is, because the story does not reveal itself quite so easily upon first hearing. Accompanying her with a deft touch was Steven Beck.

Appreciated as a composer by the likes of Grieg, Reger and Busoni, Karg-Elert was probably best known as an organist – and mainly and most successfully wrote for that instrument. The unaccompanied F-sharp major flute sonata was composed only thirty years after Undine – but sounds world apart. Engaging but with lines that were all too often broken, it reminded of weak Reger. Judging from afar, I’d rather blame the composer than the soloist for the sonatas melodies did fall neatly within the limits of breath control.

Back with Mr. Beck and the addition support of Robert Martin’s cello, Ms. Seres & Co set upon the charming Weber trio which should come as a nice change to those who only know Weber’s orchestral and operatic music. Just like in the preceding pieces, Ms. Seres established her flawless technique and good tone (especially in the Reinecke!). There is no harm in wishing for a sound that has even less air in it, although this might be as unrealistic as asking for even better breath control.

If Toro Takemitsu is accused of having a unique voice, it might be undermined by what seems a universal language for modern(ist) compositions for flute. Neither silent key-pad clicking, nor overblowing, nor screaming, huffing, and talking into the flute are unique in the repertoire. Although they may have been in 1971, when Takemitsu composed Voice. It’s performance art as much as music – and although performed impeccably, Ms. Seres didn’t sell it to me; the pale, beautiful and stern woman in the pink, layered chiffon dress somehow seemed unlikely to shout mid-flute-playing on her own volition. The work itself – and many of its kind – were once important but I suggest that their half-life is not terribly long and has, by now, once or twice passed.

A different story is New Yorker Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Flute and Piano op.23. Written in 1987 for Paula Robinson and Jean Yves Thibaudet, it has established itself as a favorite in the repertoire because it’s not just fun for the flutist to play but also the listeners to hear. Variety and imagination in abundance, tonal but challenging, rhythmic… it’s but one example of what good modern music can be all about. That it had the octogenarian in the seat next to me blissfully tap along with it was certainly a good sign. The Walküre allusion of the first movement sadly escaped me, but the hyper charged virtuosity of the second movement (for both performers: Steven Beck had his work cut out for him and responded ferociously) was irreproachable, astonishing – yet never a hollow and gratuitous display of skill. The music seemed to merit and demand every note.

The flutist favorite, Paul Taffanel’s Freischütz Variations offered beautiful melodies and acrobatics played out by the none-too-timid players who don’t shy from its technical demands. It’s a very quaint work that lightly pleases, even if it is forgotten as soon as it runs out of notes.