Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: ‘A Very English Sound’
HANDEL arr. Paul CLARK Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
Daryl RUNSWICK Variations on the Psalm tune Southwell (1986);
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS arr Denis BLOODWORTH English Folk Song Suite
ELGAR arr. BLOODWORTH Moths and Butterflies
Anne SPARKES (b.1968) Sadko
Giles FARNABY arr. Daryl RUNSWICK Five Pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
Colin HAND (b.1929) Fanfare for a Festival
BYRD arr. H.R.SINFONIA Fantasia a 6 No. 2
Warrick KEAR (b.1950) Three Pieces
Brian BONSOR (b.1926) The Seventeenth’s Farewell to Alva
Andrew CHALLINGER (b.1950) Buskin
SHERWIN arr. BLOODWORTH A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square
ALFORD arr. Chris MAY Colonel Bogey
Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia/Christopher Burgess
Recorded in the chapel of the University College Chichester September 8th and 9th 2001


I have to admit that until I came across this CD I had never heard of a recorder orchestra, let alone heard one. Even more astonishing is the fact that this is not the only one. The fascinating CD booklet talks of fifty-strong recorder orchestras in London, Manchester and the Midlands. By comparison the Hampshire one is small consisting of almost thirty players (each one named in the booklet) who between them play sopraninos, descants, trebles, tenors, basses, great basses and contrabasses. The repertoire of such an ensemble is well represented here in a balanced programme including original compositions by Colin Hand and Brian Bonsor and special arrangements including an arrangement of ‘Colonel Bogey’.

In Germany the first recorder orchestras seem to date back practically fifty years. In Britain we can go back thirty years to Dennis Bamforth’s orchestra in Manchester. The ‘Three Pieces’ by Warrick Kear (born 1950) were written in the early 1970s Bamforth’s group. At that time contrabasses were unknown but with the composer’s approval are used to strengthen the bass line here. These are intriguing pieces which certainly caught and held my attention. They are, one might say, not only harmonically questing but also ‘orchestrated’ with a feeling for a variety of textures and accompaniments. These are good pieces and worth knowing. Another good piece undoubtedly is the ‘Fantasia a 6 No. 2’ by Byrd. The fecundity of Byrd’s imagination is remarkable. Originally for a viol consort the Hampshire Sinfonia have jointly constructed the piece for themselves; arrangement by committee, as it were and very successful it is too. Again there is a variety of texture contrasting solo and tutti sections. This is important because, especially for the non-specialist, the monochrome sound of recorders may well tire the ear. Even so, imaginative and clever music will hold your attention, as with the unpromisingly titled ‘Variations on the Psalm Tune Southwell’ (1986) by Daryl Runswick (1916-1992). This takes the rather plain and sober 16th Century tune through various styles from 10th Century monody via early medieval organum into more typical 16th Century harmonisations. Also included are a set of brief Elizabethan dances and a Siciliano of Handel’s time "before a reassertion of the plainchant" (to quote the notes). Runswick was quite a doyen of the media and features elsewhere in this anthology.

Another fascinating piece is ‘Buskin’ by Andrew Challinger (born 1950), which begins like a little African school song but is in twelve parts and conceived "on polychoral lines akin to the compositional procedure of Venetian chori spezzati"; apparently four groups of instruments should be carefully positioned "to maximise their antiphonal roles".

On the negative side some pieces are more of a trial to listen to due to colourless arrangements or mediocre musical quality. The latter may be all right in the music’s original state but is not enhanced by the recorder orchestra. I’m afraid the arrangement of ‘Colonel Bogey’ comes into that category, as does ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’. And the close harmonies of ‘A Nightingale sang’ just sound out of tune. This arrangement’s emphasis on the tune being exclusively in the descant part is rather trying and the piece loses its romance.

The English Folksong Suite’ poses another problem. One knows the music too well in its more familiar versions for brass band or orchestra. These offer much more colour and variety of timbre. Obviously the recorder orchestra cannot offer that so much enjoyment of the music is consequently removed. The dynamic tends to stay at one level for too long and again the ear can tire. Do recorder orchestras ever include percussion? It might add an interesting contrast.

Of recent pieces specially composed for this ensemble or for others, Colin Hand’s characteristically fascinating and nicely contrived ‘Fanfare’ written in the mid-1960s shows the composer’s true empathy with this kind of ensemble. Of course he is well known as a composer of woodwind music. His works are particularly enjoyed by young musicians. The arrangements of Giles Farnaby's keyboard pieces by Daryl Runswick work very well and sound authentic; the recorder suiting the music ideally. These pieces are identical to the ones Rubbra orchestrated in the 1940s. Incidentally Rubbra wrote well for solo recorder.

Recorder tuning is always a problem but mostly it is remarkable how it rarely strikes one as such on this CD. The ensemble is generally excellent although I suspect that the ending of the VW Folksong suite might have benefited from a re-take.

The enclosed booklet is excellent, with fine colour photographs of the recording sessions and venue and players. There are useful notes about each piece and an enthusiastic essay on recorder ensembles/orchestras by Chris Burgess himself. It is a pity that the convention of printing the track timings was not followed through, but this and its companion disc of 1997 are unique documents and anyone with a semblance of interest in this unusual repertoire should contact the orchestra’s website at, where I believe, the CDs can be purchased.

Gary Higginson

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