English Recorder Music
Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999) Concerto for recorder, string orchestra and percussion (1986) [11.26]; Three Nautical Sketches (1982) [6.19]
Philip LANE (b.1950) Suite Ancienne for recorder and string orchestra (1988/1993) [8.57]
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-1999) Concertino for recorder and string orchestra Op. 41a (1921-2006) [7.30];
Edward GREGSON (b.1945) Three Matisse Impressions for recorder, strings, harp and percussion (1993/7) [10.17];
Ian PARROTT (b.1916) Prelude and Waltz for recorder and strings (1997) [6.19];
David LYON (b.1938) Concertino for recorder and string orchestra (1999) [8.43];
Alan BULLARD (b.1947) Recipes for recorder and strings (1989) [10.18]
John Turner (recorder)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland (except Gregson: cond. composer)
rec. Whitfield Street Studios, London, April/December 1999, first released on Olympia OCD 667 in 2000
NAXOS 8.572503 [73.37]
A disc of English music that gets to be called ‘light’ which is all too often considered to be a derogatory term.
Those of us to whom English music is important and who wish to promote it as much as possible must admit that John Turner is a wonder. He has been recording, encouraging and commissioning English recorder music for many years. The long roll-call of composers - of which I am one - are queuing up to hear him play their music. This disc is a re-issue of an a 2000 release on the Olympia label. Since then, amongst many contributions, he has added English recorder concertos in 2002 (ASV WHL 2143) and ‘Over the Water’ (Dutton CDLX 7191). Some composers have featured on at least two of Turner’s earlier albums so we have Philip Lane here. He was also on the ASV disc above.
Thomas Pitfield was a Mancunian as is John Turner who greatly loves and respects his music. His Concerto for Recorder and String Orchestra and Percussion, first played by Turner, is the longest work here. Pitfield was also an illustrator. His portrait of John Turner is a part of the booklet as is the wonderful cover sketch. If you know Pitfield’s autobiographical volumes No Song, No Supper and the follow-up A Song before Supper (Thames Publishing, London) then you are well aware of his talents. The Concerto’s three movements have the usual melodious charm. There’s also rhythmic interest - for example the second movement is in 7/8 time. The first movement is a succinct sonata-form using the descant and treble recorders. The second uses the tenor and the third the descant.
As an example of a perfect miniature you could do no worse than hear Pitfield’s other work here: the Three Nautical Sketches. This is in three compact movements which play with melodies such as We be three poor mariners and Donkey Riding in the Quodlibet movement one, Tom Bowling in movement two and The Keel Row in movement three. England is here in a time-warp but fashion needs pushing to one side and the craftsmanship and fun of the music can be fully appreciated. That comment applies to all of the works on this CD; they are open to be enjoyed by anyone and yet have an individuality and an interest all of their own.
Philip Lane’s piece opens the disc. His music and his arrangements have become well-known and have often been recorded, for example his fun Suite of Cotswold Folk Dances (ASV WHL 2126) available on that sadly finished series British Light Music Discoveries. Something of that world lives in this recorder work the Suite Ancienne with its dance titles harking back to the 18th Century (not too ancienne!) An Intrada - movement 1, perhaps a little renaissance, then Courtly Dance - movement 2, Minuet - movement 3 and Revelry - movement 4. Actually this piece exists in three forms. Its original was written to accompany a pageant celebrating George III’s visit to Cheltenham in 1788. Then Lane made out of it a piece for recorder and piano which John Turner first performed in New Zealand in 1993. Now we have the orchestral version. The style is gently English - Last of the Summer Wine-type - but most enjoyable for all that and not a little nostalgic.
Philip Lane also had a hand in Malcolm Arnold’s Concertino for recorder and string orchestra as he orchestrated it with composer’s permission. It is in three short movements, a long-lined Cantilena, a melancholy Chaconne and an all too brief Rondo alla Tarantella. It was the last of four concertinos for various woodwind instruments that Arnold composed in the immediate post-war years and has material related to the contemporary 2nd Symphony including some harmonically quite ambiguous passages. An interesting piece.
It was a good idea to wheel out Edward Gregson to conduct his own Three Matisse Impressions as he obtains such gorgeous sounds from his strings, harp and percussion. I decided to listen to the piece whilst looking at three paintings although in the case of the opening Pastoral I wasn’t too sure which painting - possibly the Open Window: Collioure of 1905. The sounds and the floating harmony seem to match the bright and serene boats glimpsed above the pot plants. The second movement Luxe, calme et volupté is a reminder of how much Matisse liked to paint nudes; there is a 1905 beach picture with this title which is remarkable for its southern light which Gregson delightfully captures. Matisse’s most famous picture is Dance of 1913. It has been said that the painter was quite “disturbed by the aggressive frenzy of this work” (Nicholas Watkins, Phaidon Press, London, 1992). I have to say that Gregson goes in more for lithe nymphs and, changing to the sopranino for the last bars, just emphasizes the point. The painting’s dark colours are not matched in the music. But so what, it’s a lovely and charming mood and anyway Matisse with his two masterpieces Dance and Music is a great choice to tap into for any composer. That said, one grizzled old painter by the harbour in Collioure once told me that he thought Matisse a charlatan.
Although often referred to as being Welsh Ian Parrott is in fact a Londoner but has worked in Wales for much of his life and has found the landscape and culture of the country inspirational. The Prelude and Waltz begins in a rather serious mood in his often typically chromatic and tonally ambiguous language. The ensuing Waltz lightens the atmosphere. It’s one thing to dream a catchy melody yourself, but for your wife to do so is somewhat unusual. Mind you this happened soon after Parrott remarried at the age of 80! This is the melody of the waltz which although a little faltering towards the end is almost entirely happy and suitably carefree for a newly married couple.
David Lyon’s Concertino is a lovely piece in three movements which really gives the recorder a chance to shine in many decorative and quite demanding passages although always written at the service of the music. John Turner, as on the entire CD, is foot-perfect both in intonation and character and at every turn his playing is an absolute delight. The movements are Badinage, Réverie based on two waltz tunes and Promenade which uses a melody Lyon had written for a TV theme.
The CD ends with a charming work by Allan Bullard Recipes for recorder and string orchestra. The deft and imaginative orchestration belies the fact that originally this was conceived and first performed by John Turner as an unaccompanied piece. It falls into five movements, first a delightfully French Coffee and Croissants (on a Parisian pavement no doubt at nine in the morning watching the world go by), secondly an indolent Barbecue Blues followed by Prawn Paella with quotes from Bizet. Then an exotic and neatly arranged Special Chop Suey and finally Fish and Chips. Here I found my imagination running to a visit to Morecambe a few years ago and eating F&Cs on the seafront while the circus trundled past.
Finally, a question in light of the small-scale works here, and not a criticism. Has anyone out there written a large scale serious-minded work of say thirty minutes duration for recorder and orchestra either for John Turner or Michala Petri or any player? I would love to know if there are some big modern concertos for the instrument.
Anyway this is all wonderfully approachable music and a marvellously entertaining disc. Buy it.
A marvellously entertaining disc. Buy it.
see also review by Nick Barnard