Following his father’s initiative in the revival of early
music, Carl Dolmetsch was a pioneer in the twentieth century,
promoting interest in the recorder as a “serious”
musical instrument and gaining a reputation as a virtuoso from
the 1930s onward. Four of the six pieces here were written and
dedicated to Carl Dolmetsch. Later, the Danish player Michala
Petri became one of the best-known exponents, and many other
excellent recorder players have emerged as champions of the
Since the 1930s several composers have written works for the
recorder and a sizeable repertoire of modern music has been
created. The instrument is no longer confined to the music of
earlier centuries, before it gave way to the transverse flute.
English composers like Edmund Rubbra, Lennox Berkeley and Antony
Hopkins were amongst the first to provide attractive music for
the recorder in the twentieth century. But the greatest number
of works is surely attributable to Gordon Jacob, and it is his
music alone that the English recorder player Annabel Knight
has chosen for this CD. Her reason, as she states in the booklet
notes, is to redress a balance, because proponents of the avant-garde
recorder movement in Germany and The Netherlands in the 1960s
neglected the late twentieth century English repertoire.
The six works by Jacob on this CD comprise almost his complete
output of recorder music. The exception is the miniature Duettino
written as an encore for Michala Petri. This requires the performer
to play a tune while simultaneously singing a counter-melody!
Probably the best known piece is the substantial 1957 Suite
for Recorder and Strings, here performed in its original form
with string quartet. It is played beautifully by the soloist
accompanied by the excellent Maggini Quartet. This seven movement
work often appears in recitals with piano accompaniment (composer’s
arrangement), and there is an earlier recording by Michala Petri
with string orchestra. The piece works well in all arrangements,
but the string quartet version has, I think, a particular charm.
From the gently flowing Prelude to the English Dance, Lament,
Burlesca alla rumba, Pavane, Introduction and Cadenza and a
final lively Tarantella, the listener encounters a wide range
of moods. This is attractive, tuneful music, ideally suited
to the instrument and played, as are all the works on this CD,
with assuredness, precision and sensitivity.
The Sonatina for treble recorder and harpsichord (originally
written for Michala Petri) is in similar vein with its four
short movements of “easy on the ear” melodies. It
was written in 1983, though the CD states 1985, the latter being
the date of publication. The final movement, marked Allegro
vivace, is reminiscent of the Tarantella of the Suite. Both
of these final movements are usually played on the sopranino
recorder (optional). Annabel Knight does so in the Tarantella
but chooses to stay with the treble recorder in the last movement
of the Sonatina.
There is perhaps a more serious tone overall in the longer Sonata
for recorder and piano (1967). The music still appeals to the
ear but there are moments when it has a certain edge, especially
in the Scherzo with its percussive discords on piano. The work
as a whole demonstrates that the recorder, despite its apparent
gentility of tone, is quite capable of conveying strong emotions.
In this work and the Sonatina, the keyboards are played with
great verve by Robin Bigwood.
A Consort of Recorders (1972) is another piece composed for
Carl Dolmetsch, this time for recorder quartet. It is also known
as “A Jacobean Suite”, a punning title devised by
Dolmetsch. It consists of six brief movements, beginning with
Fanfare and March followed by Nocturne, a felicitous Panpipes,
Bells (incorporating the Westminster chimes), a serene Chorale,
and ending with a very short “throwaway” Adieu.
Gordon Jacob would probably have described the piece as “unpretentious“,
and it is exactly that, but witty and quite charming. The ensemble
Fontanella play this with enthusiasm and capture the changing
moods and moments of humour delightfully.
Jacob wrote a number of sets of variations, for strings, full
orchestra, piano (three hands), all of which are worth pursuing,
and his Variations for treble recorder and piano (1962) live
up to his reputation of providing satisfying music of worth.
The ten variations on a folk-like theme, which has been described
elsewhere as having a Scottish flavour, are as varied as one
could possibly imagine. The work has been recorded previously
by Ross Winters on a British Music Society disc and in its booklet
notes, Andrew Mayes (who provided the main notes for this current
CD) points out that in the fourth variation there is an arpeggio
accompaniment based upon the open-string intervals of the treble
viol, reminding the listener of the Dolmetsch family’s
connection with early music. The fifth variation is for piano
alone, written for Carl Dolmetsch’s associate Joseph Saxby
who usually played the accompaniment of the whole work on the
The final piece Trifles, for treble recorder, violin, cello
and harpsichord was written, according to my information in
1982 (the score is dated Jan 1st 1983) but the date given on
the CD sleeve is 1971. The title is, one supposes, an English
interpretation of Bagatelles. With typical wit, Jacob has given
the four movements punning names: Le Buffet, La Trifle au vin
de Jerez, La Trifle à l’ananas, and La Trifle à
l’anglaise. The second movement surely has a whiff of
Spain, the third is pineapple sweet, while the final movement
is based upon an English folksong, The Keys of Canterbury. The
slow movements have that wistfulness so characteristic of Jacob’s
music, while the allegros are invigorating and tend to get the
This CD is a fine tribute to the composer. His music has been
interpreted with first-class performances; one sometimes finds
that Jacob’s slow movements are not given enough weight,
but here they are treated most sensitively. And the livelier
passages and movements receive the full treatment, resulting
in great bursts of energy - most exhilarating. Jacob’s
music ideally suits the instrument as one would expect, and
it has great clarity of texture. Annabel Knight, in her own
comments in the CD booklet, refers to his musical language as
“often sparse, desolate and disturbed” and links
this to the personal tragedies in Jacob’s life, notably
his experiences in World War 1 in which he lost a favourite
brother. Although there is much jollity in the music on this
CD, the serious and reflective side of his work is clearly apparent.
It is never over-stated; it is handled with restraint.
The recording quality is first-rate with an excellent balance
between soloist and accompaniment. The recorder is never swamped
by the other instruments. All credit must go to Robin Bigwood
who was the recording engineer as well as the keyboard player.
The Suite (in this version with string quartet), the Sonata
and Trifles all appear as world premiere recordings.
It is good to see yet another CD devoted entirely to Jacob’s
music, especially when the performances are so sparkling. It
deserves to be successful.
Dr Geoff Ogram
see also review by Bob Briggs