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A Joker's Tales
Daniel BÖRTZ
(b. 1943)

A Joker’s Tales* (1999-2000) [20:16]
Ingvar KARKOFF (b. 1958)

Concerto for Recorder and Wind Orchestra** (2000) [20:28]
Fredrik ÖSTERLING (b. 1966)

Les voix du silence (Voices of Silence),
Six movements for recorder trio*** (2003) [16.50]
Dan Laurin (recorder)
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Gilbert*
Östgöta Symphonic Wind Ensemble/Petter Sundkvist**
Trio Paradox***
rec. May 2002, Nybrokajen 11 (the former Academy of Music), Stockholm (Karkoff); December 2002, Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden (Börtz); July 2005, Länna Church, Sweden (Österling). DDD
BIS-CD-1425 [58:35]

I have long been a fan of Dan Laurin’s solo playing, and admire his pioneering spirit in promoting his instrument both from within and beyond its normal confines of Baroque repertoire. I have worked with recorder players in creating new pieces before, and have had the opportunity of seeing how techniques from all corners of wind playing can be applied to new compositions for the instrument. This is a rare opportunity to see how the humble recorder fares in front of a full modern symphony orchestra.

Daniel Börtz’s work came about as a commission from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, and pulls no punches with a rhythmic, machine-like tutti opening whose powerful sound is easily penetrated by a sopranino recorder. As the composer says, ‘the Joker’s little whistle’ turns ‘the full sonic weight of the orchestra upside down’. The composer also goes on to mention that ‘combining a single recorder often demands unusual and innovative solutions in terms of orchestration’. This is fair, but Börtz also solves the problem with an extended solo for low recorder, and by leaving the orchestra its own extended tuttis. The recorder is also mixed with some delightfully scored percussion sections, sometimes growing out of, or answering more fragmentary orchestral statements. After an expansive and solemn final orchestral chorale, the soprano recorder trips in once more, cheekily turning the final moments into a departure, much as the opening was very much an arrival.

Ingvar Karkoff’s Concerto, scored for recorder and wind orchestra, to some extent avoids the danger of losing the recorder into thick string textures. The mellow tenor recorder used in the opening dances in between the punchy brass chords, its sound distinctive enough to make it clearly audible. The recorder mixes with the woodwind in a surprisingly satisfying way, and percussion once again plays a significant role in rendering the orchestral textures transparent without loosing weight or rhythmic impulse. With the basic melodic cell being simple, tonal and triadic, the music explores harmonics and bell-like timbres – the lack of chromatic ‘crowding’ also helping the open sound. Karkoff has the recorder exploring more extended effects than Börtz, with flutter-tonguing, multiphonics, glissandi and vocalising from Dan, who takes such things very much in his stride. After just such a rhapsodic passage there is a particularly nice development from around 11.35, which has a Sibelian mixed with medieval character which is surprising and gorgeous. The final part of the piece is taken on the soprano recorder, and the character of the music changes, with hints of Stravinsky, but with the antique quality of the recorder always bringing in a surreal quality. With more menacing drums picking up the pace the character of the music changes again - imagine (if you are old enough and British enough) one of ‘The Clangers’ being dragged through the Spanish Inquisition. The final section re-introduces the triadic theme of the opening, and concludes with some succulent chorale-like moments from the brass. The ending could have offered more for me – concluding in a pop and a squeak rather than the true apotheosis which the theme promises. Nonetheless this is a fascinating work, and a highly successful concerto.

The CD ends with a recorder trio, which programmatically might have more logically appeared as the second work – making it the filling to a concerto sandwich. Fredrik Österling was inspired in this work by Petrarch’s Canzona No.363, which is printed in full and translated into English in the booklet. The piece is superbly crafted and equally well performed. There is an incredible amount going on here – from unison alarm calls, subtle timbre and breath effects, intensely through-composed counterpoint and considerable rhythmic virtuosity. Simplicity and complexity are juxtaposed in a piece which is anything but thin sounding, and with this trio’s immaculate intonation it is easy to be fooled into imagining that there are more than three players at work.

Bis have a justified reputation for producing desirable discs, and with this new CD of high quality, substantial and original new music they have certainly done themselves no disservice. Dan Laurin’s message that the recorder can hold its own in orchestral works is amply proven, and the part this instrument plays in these pieces goes far beyond gimmick or novelty effect. He rightly describes the recorder as having ‘the curse of being a pedagogical tool’, but we composers know it has the secret of a special sound colour – one which consciously or unconsciously calls up associations with the human voice, or the more obvious pastime of whistling. The theatrical ‘Joker’s Tales’ each have a world of their own – walled gardens into which it would be nice to be able to step, now and again – but you have to buy the CD first!

Dominy Clements

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