Over the last few years, John Turner’s tireless and
dedicated advocacy of English recorder music has brought an incredible
amount of worthwhile, though often neglected recorder works "into
the light of common day". Almost all pieces here were prompted,
directly or indirectly, by John Turner and together provide for a marvellous
and enjoyable musical experience. Each composer featured in this generously
filled disc has his own approach, but all write idiomatically for the
instrument. Most pieces are light-hearted, colourful and tuneful, sometimes
with more than a hint of mild irony. Some, however, are more than that,
as will be seen later.
Kenneth Leighton wrote a number of somewhat lighter
works, such as his Dance Suites, but these lighter pieces nevertheless
always display this composer’s earnestness of purpose. His Concerto
for Recorder, Harpsichord and Strings Op.88 is no exception.
Two predominantly serious movements frame a nimble scherzo, and the
concerto’s third movement is a deeply-felt elegy of great expressive
beauty. Similarly, Stephen Dodgson’s Concerto Chacony,
for all its concision, has a rather unusual seriousness of intent and
of expression. Peter Lawson’s Song of the Lesser Twayblade
and the late Norman Kay’s Mr Pitfield’s Pavane display
some more astringent harmonic writing that sometimes belies the works’
titles suggesting pretty musical vignettes, which these pieces are not.
John Gardner’s Petite Suite Op.245, composed as recently
as 2001, is another enjoyable example of this composer’s engaging Neo-Classicism.
Such music never outstays its welcome. (Neither does any of the pieces
The other pieces are lighter in mood and, as such,
contrast happily with the more serious pieces in this selection. Philip
Lane’s delightful Suite Champêtre, originally for
flute and harp and scored especially for this recording, sings and dances
along throughout whereas John McCabe’s jolly frolic Domestic Life
(which the composer modestly describes as a pièce d’occasion)
displays some infectious humour and trips the light fantastic without
any inhibition. This delightful trifle is a real winner, and you may
well end up whistling its tunes.
Another welcome attraction is Mellers’ Aubade,
originally a sonatina for recorder and piano written in 1961 and orchestrated
in 2001 at John Turner’s suggestion. Collectors may remember a long-deleted
LP of Mellers’ music (UEA 84119 released in 1984), but his music has
been conspicuously absent from the catalogue since then, with the notable
exception of his Opus Alchymicum for organ (available
on NIMBUS NI 5580/1). This is yet another delightful miniature of great
charm and marvellously scored for strings and optional Orff percussion.
Finally, a short tribute to Robin Milford whose centenary
will hopefully not pass unnoticed this year. The Two Pipe Tunes
recorded here come from his oratorio The Prophet in the Land Op.21
completed in 1929 and first heard in Gloucester Cathedral in 1931. Milford
rescued the first tune as the second of his Three Airs Op.109
for recorder and piano. Philip Lane’s expert scoring for strings, made
for this recording, does in no way obscure Milford’s wonderful tunes.
Up to now, ASV have graced us with several discs of
rare English concertos and will hopefully go on, for there is so much
worthwhile stuff still unheard at the time of writing. This release,
anyway, is one of their finest so far: excellent playing and superb
recording that serve the music well. A real winner.