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The Dolmetsch Legacy: English Recorder Music
Gordon JACOB: Variations
Cyril SCOTT: Aubade
Edmund RUBBRA: Sonatina Op. 128; Passacaglia Sopra 'Plusieurs Regrets', Op. 113; Meditation Sopra 'Coeurs Désolés', Op. 67
Antony HOPKINS: Suite
John GARDNER: Little Suite in C, Op. 60
Colin HAND: Sonata Breve
Franz REIZENSTEIN: Partita
Ross Winters (recorders); Andrew Ball (piano)
Rec. 2002

There is a temptation to regard the modern repertoire for recorder as something specialised outside 'proper' music. However one only has to listen to a varied recital such as this to realise that one does not have to be a recorder buff to appreciate such music. This is a CD for all admirers of the composers featured, while it is also an invaluable guide to all aspiring amateur performers on how the music should go.

Those amateur recorder players who, like me, competed in local music festivals in the past playing similar repertoire, will remember the bird-like figure of Carl Dolmetsch in the adjudicator's chair, with his clipped accent and demonstrations of how trills and mordents should have been played. His concern was setting standards, even if later his own high standards were eclipsed by a younger generation of recorder virtuosos. Dolmetsch's annual Wigmore Hall recital with the ever reliable Joseph Saxby at the harpsichord saw the premieres of a long succession of commissions, some of which are now recorded by Ross Winters on his excellent CD recital.

Perhaps the modern lynchpin of the recorder repertoire is Edmund Rubbra's glorious Meditation Sopra 'Coeurs Désolés' which in 1953 prompted Arthur Hutchings to a remarkable assessment, which is so eloquent I think worth quoting here to underline the stature of Rubbra's recorder music: 'I played it to two of my colleagues. … one … said "How extraordinary that something using only triads can be so charged with emotion". The other said: "My God! It's no miniature. Its Rubbra himself in the best grand manner. Once he begins 'in form' he screws me up and I can't relax tension until the last note has stopped sounding".'

Carl Dolmetsch left us his own recorded recital of some of his modern repertoire. Three of the pieces here recorded by Ross Winters and Andrew Ball also appeared on Dolmetsch's 1973 LP recording on the Californian Orion label (ORS 74144). The comparison brings to light an immediate issue, that much of this repertoire, notably all the Rubbra pieces and Gordon Jacob's Variations, were actually written for harpsichord not piano accompaniment. To some extent at least they need the sound of the harpsichord to make their intended effect. In the case of the Rubbra Sonatina the printed score just says 'harpsichord' with no alternative of piano. It has to be said that it all works on the piano, but the impact of the music is materially changed by the sound of the harpsichord, and it is a pity it could not have been used here. Also there is another Dolmetsch tradition Ross Winters has elected not to emulate, which is Dolmetsch's practice of starting the last movement of Rubbra's Sonatina on the sopranino recorder, switching instruments after the first page.

Ross Winters is notably successful in this repertoire, with his 'fatter' sound than Dolmetsch, his better control of breath and colour in the long sustained notes in for example 'Coeurs Désolés'. With his more generous phrasing - adding half a minute to Dolmetsch's timing of that piece - his performances firmly transfer the recorder into the serious instrumental repertoire of the period.

This is an excellent selection of modern recorder music, and it is particularly good to see Rubbra's three principal works for recorder and keyboard brought together, making this CD a must for Rubbra lovers at the very least. (Rubbra's 1978 Dolmetsch commission, the Fantasia on a Chord, Op. 154, needs viola da gamba and harpsichord, taking it outside the repertoire playable with piano accompaniment.) Gordon Jacob's Variations of 1963 and Antony Hopkins' Suite of 1953 were both also on the earlier Dolmetsch LP but are here played with a poise and flowing phrasing which Dolmetsch's more clipped manner of playing did not always achieve. Later, in the early 1980s, Gordon Jacob was dazzled by the young Michala Petri and wrote far more virtuosically for her. Here in common with these composers he writes music which all amateur recorder players can attempt but which needs a virtuoso to present with the intonation and command of tone to give works such as the Rubbra their true stature.

The pieces by Cyril Scott and Franz Reizenstein expand the vocabulary of the recorder and are really flute music manqué. Indeed, Scott's score indicates 'for treble recorder, flute or violin', though to hear them played as here is to appreciate what atmospheric contributions they are to the treble recorder's repertoire. The Cyril Scott Aubade adopts a relatively low tessitura and it needs careful projection of tone to enable the soloist to compete with the piano. The Scott was once recorded by Karsten Behrmann on a Da Camera Magna LP (sm 93502), but was played with less understanding than by Ross Winters whose feeling for Scott's ebb and flow, adds well over a minute to Behrmann's timing. Here Andrew Ball's sympathetic piano playing does much to characterise the piece.

Although there is more very worthwhile recorder repertoire from British composers of the 1930s-1950s, not least the Herbert Murrill Sonata and the Malcolm Arnold Sonatina, this is a worthwhile and representative selection. It includes several of the cornerstones of the modern recorder repertoire. You do not need to be a recorder player to enjoy it, but all recorder buffs will be fascinated and inspired by hearing some of the pieces they grapple with played in exemplary style.

Lewis Foreman

British Music Society

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