Gordon JACOB (1895 Ė 1984)
Suite for recorder and string quartet (1957) [19:22]
Sonatina for treble recorder and harpsichord (1985) [9:38]
Sonata for recorder and piano (1967) [13:24]
A Consort of Recorders (1972) [10:15]
Variations for treble recorder and piano (1962) [12:55]
Trifles, for treble recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord (1971) [9:07]
Annabel Knight (recorders), Robin Bigwood (harpsichord and piano), Maggini Quartet (Gina McCormack, David Angel (violins), Martin Outram (viola), Michal Kaznowski (cello)), Fontanella (Annabel Knight, Katriina Boosey, Sarah Humphreys, Rebecca AustenĖBrown (recorders))
rec. 12 and 25-26 January 2009, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, DDD
NAXOS 8.572364 [75:10]

Over the years Gordon Jacob has had many recordings made of his music. However, most of them were collections of several composers and its really only recently that heís been given his due and granted full disks devoted to his works. And about time too, I hear you shouting. My favourites of the recent disks are the Regimental Band of the Coldstream Guards playing the complete Music for a Festival and other military band works (SRC 108) and the two Symphonies (London Philharmonic under Barry Wordsworth Lyrita SRCD315). Now along comes this absolutely delightful disk of easy going, and most mellifluous, chamber music, which complements the recording of Jacobís Viola Sonata (part of a very satisfying collection of British Viola works, played by Martin Outram (viola) and Julian Rolton (piano) (Naxos 8.572208)).

As a composer, Gordon Jacob was a fastidious craftsman, and he seemed, instinctively, to understand the nature of every instrument. He was a master orchestrator but his knowledge of instrumentation went beyond mere knowing the technical capabilities of the instrument he was writing for Ė he had a knack of creating exactly the right music for each instrument. Thus these pieces would not work as well if played on the flute, although they would sound lovely, and something of the special nature of the recorder would be lost. Itís like transposing a song into a key better suited to oneís voice; never a good idea.

All these pieces are light in nature, but serious in intent. They are full of the most gentle lyricism, and the tunes show unusual and quirky turns at almost every turn. The early Suite with string quartet is a fine example of this melodic gift. Take the second movement, for instance. On the surface the quartet play music which could be described as English pastoral but when the recorder is added something magical happens and the landscape is broadened by the twists and turns of the tune. This is the most ingratiating music imaginable and totally charming.

The solo pieces with harpsichord evoke an earlier Elizabethan age with delicate traceries running through the music and when pitted against the contemporary concert grand, even though one might imagine the small voiced recorder to have problems, there are no such problems with the pieces which include that instrument here. Jacobís adroit ear for sonority and balance are finely tuned to such pitfalls and he creates works which are real partnerships and the larger instrument never overpowers his partner.

The Consort of Recorders is a very pleasing divertissement for four instruments and the final Trifles, with violin, cello and harpsichord are uproariously comic.

Naxos has done Jacob proud with this issue. The performances are superb, the recorded sound excellent and the notes good. Itís a real treat to have this disk available and give us another insight into Jacobís work. Itís far too good and enjoyable to miss!

Bob Briggs

Itís far too good and enjoyable to miss!