Songs of Yesterday
York BOWEN (1884 – 1961)
Sonatina for recorder and piano, Op. 121 (1947) [11:50]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901 – 1986)
Sonatina for treble recorder and harpsichord, Op. 128 (1965) [11:37]
Cyril SCOTT (1879 – 1970)
Aubade for treble recorder and piano (1952)
Herbert MURRILL (1909 – 1952)
Sonata for treble recorder and harpsichord (1950) [7:27]
Walter LEIGH (1905 – 1942)
Sonatina for treble recorder and piano (1939) [10:06]
Passacaglia sopra ‘Plusieurs regrets’, Op. 113 (1962) [4:54]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903 – 1989)
Sonatina for treble recorder and piano, Op. 13 (1939) [10:56]
Dan Laurin (recorder), Anna Paradiso (harpsichord and piano)
rec. July 2009, Nybrokajen 11 (the former Academy of Music), Stockholm, Sweden
BIS–CD-1785 [67:27]

To those of us who started listening to music in the late 1950s and early 1960s the name Carl Dolmetsch (1911 – 1997) is still a name that evokes memories. His father Arnold was one of the central figures in the early music movement and Carl became the first recorder player of some importance during the 20th century. Baroque music was important to him – that’s where there was a repertoire for his instrument – but he also felt that he needed contemporary music for his instrument. When he gave his first recital in Wigmore Hall in February 1939 – together with Joseph Saxby, who was his musical partner for sixty years – there was not yet any contemporary music available and so he performed a composition of his own. Music journalist Manuel Jacobs, who was already an enthusiast for the recorder then set to work to try to persuade some young composers to write for the recorder. One of the fruits of this effort was Lennox Berkeley’s Sonatina, which he included in his next recital at Wigmore in November the same year. This work and a good handful of other works commissioned by Dolmetsch are included in this programme, played by the Swedish virtuoso Dan Laurin, by many considered to be the foremost player of the instrument in his generation.

The music here is generally agreeable and accessible. It may be regarded as sacrilege to reveal that my wife and I on several occasions have played the disc as wall-paper music during our Friday and Saturday dinners, which in itself is proof of its versatility. You savour the first drop of the dry martini together with the melodious and entertaining first movement of Bowen’s Sonatina. You slump back for a handful of peanuts during the relaxed and dreamy Andante tranquillo and you are alerted to stand up and walk into the dining-room by the sprightly virtuosic Allegro giocoso. A really charming composition and you are already in high spirits when you sit down at the table.

The slightly dry neo-classicist Sonatina by Rubbra goes well with the white wine and the raw spiced salmon, an ancient Scandinavian first course. The use of harpsichord as accompanying instrument clearly relates the music to olden days, most obviously in the final variations on a song by 16th century composer Vazquez.

Cyril Scott’s Lotus Land – in Fritz Kreisler’s famous recording – has long been a favourite piece while clearing the table and bringing in the main course - the kitchen staff is free on Friday and Saturday evenings – so what is more natural than using the impressionist and slightly oriental Aubade for the same purpose.

Herbert Murrill’s Sonata is not the long and serious work one would expect as a contrast to the more light-hearted sonatinas previously heard. No, this is the shortest composition on this disc – bar Rubbra’s Passacaglia – and, truth to tell, it is so charming and uplifting that we just have to wait for some minutes and listen. The steak is too hot anyway! A delicate first movement, a light and airy and swift-moving second movement, nervously fluttering, a calm and beautiful third movement with a feeling of folk-song, though the liner-notes refer to plainchant. There we are. The concluding gigue-like Allegro non troppo, only 1:13, is a signal to start eating.

And there, I’m afraid, interest wavers a bit when we reach Walter Leigh’s Sonatina, maybe due to the juicy sirloin and the aroma of the claret, but we do appreciate, anyway, the contemplative Larghetto, which seems to be the musical centre of this piece. Leigh, I remember to tell my wife, wrote this music in 1939 but it was not performed in the November recital. It was published in 1944 but then Leigh was already dead, having been killed in action in North Africa in 1942. We do, however, appreciate Rubbra’s Passacaglia from 1962. It’s rhythmically and harmonically the boldest of these compositions and a splendid intellectual repose. Then it’s time for a second helping, accompanied by Berkeley’s Sonatina, that pioneering work from 1939. A disciple of Nadia Boulanger, Berkeley was rather French in style. The piece boasts a central Adagio that glides nobly and gently and is followed by an elegant Allegro moderato, rather in the Poulenc mould.

End of disc and end of dinner. No, not quite. There is dessert to follow but it is normally accompanied by the sounds of silence.

Songs of Yesterday is a valuable document and a tribute to one of the great instrumentalists of the 20th century. The compositions may not be barnstormers – well, Rubbra’s Passacaglia has those extra ingredients that make you sit up, but the rest is highly attractive and the playing is superb. Fans of recorder music will want the disc, no doubt, but those who still regard the recorder as a beginners’ instrument before changing over to ‘real’ instruments should definitely hear this and presumably many will revise their opinion.

Göran Forsling

Those who still regard the recorder as a beginners’ instrument should definitely hear this and many will revise their opinion.