Let’s deal with the top and bottom lines first. This is one
of the best CDs of recorder music that I have ever heard. Full
stop. However, four things need to be said. Firstly, that this
particular instrument is not my favourite: it comes a long way
down my personal batting list which is crowned by piano and
cello. I guess that I associate it with my own excruciating
attempts to play Greensleeves as a nine year old scholar.
My contemporaries were not much better either. Secondly, the
tone of the ‘English flute’ is something that needs to be heard
in relatively small doses. To this end, I advise taking each
of these works one by one – with small refreshment breaks in-between.
Thirdly, I have never heard of Michala Petri – I ought to have.
She is utterly brilliant. Finally, notwithstanding ‘point one’
above, I have long regarded the legendary John Turner as the
master of recorder music. It is rare for me to listen to any
work for this instrument that is not played or recorded by him.
So this is, for me at any rate, new territory.
The Richard Harvey Concerto Incantato is officially
billed as a ‘world premiere recording’. However I have not heard
the Arnold or the Jacob before. I have discovered that Michala
Petri did record the Jacob in 1984 on Philips Digital.
If I am honest, I have never heard of Richard Harvey either.
Once again, I should have. For one thing he contributed to Hans
Zimmer’s score for the Da Vinci Code. Born in 1953,
he graduated from the Royal College of Music in 1972. He has
involved himself with many genres of music – from medieval to
rock – he had a progressive rock and folk band called Gryphon.
One point of note: his ‘modest’ web-site (Richard Harvey: Renowned
Composer, Arranger Conductor and Multi-Instrumentalist) is very
difficult to read – white text on black!
Harvey’s Concerto is interesting, if not totally satisfying.
When I read that he was a film-music composer, I did wonder
if it would suffer from sounding like a compilation from his
film scores and to a certain extent I believe this is true.
However, the Concerto is a valid work in its own right. The
listener needs to remember that Harvey is an accomplished recorder
player – and other instruments too. His website notes that he
can play some 700 different instruments from around the world!
I would be delighted to manage just one well.
The Concerto Incantato was written specifically for
Michala Petri and was commissioned by Leanne Nicholls for the
City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong’s tenth anniversary concert.
The sleeve-notes suggest an eclectic stylistic background to
the work and this is exactly what we hear. The composer quite
clearly draws extensively on his television and film score background,
although this is supplemented by his interest in medieval music.
The concerto is written in five movements and makes use of the
full set of recorders. The first movement is entitled Sorcery
and I must admit does have a distinct Harry Potter
mood to it. The orchestration fairly shimmers. The second is
entitled Natura Morta - Still Life. Here the composer
has used the tenor recorder and has had recourse to ethnic music
derived from China and the native North-American flute. It is
a thoughtful, almost static piece that lulls the listener into
a dream-like world. The following Danza Spiriti (Dance
of the Sprits) destroys the reverie. This is exciting music
that chases itself around in circles. The next movement is the
meditative Sacra Canzone featuring what the composer
has called the English Theme. This leads to the finale
which once again nods to Harry Potter – Incantesimi
– Spells. This, for me, is the least impressive part of the
work. The minimalist recorder figurations become tedious. However
the music builds up to a hectic dance, before the English
Theme is reprised. I am not sure I like the ‘medieval’
mood in parts of this movement.
In the round this is a reasonably impressive and virtuosic work
– however I hold it to be a little unbalanced between the parts.
If this is music for the ‘Harry Potter’ generation, as billed
in the liner-notes then I am not quite convinced.
Malcolm Arnold’s 1988 Concerto was composed specifically
for Michala Petri. I know that there are mixed views about the
quality of this work. It is not one of my favourites from the
composer’s pen. Yet there is plenty of interest and one or two
touches of the ‘old’ Arnold. I guess that I am a little concerned
that the balance of work is faulty. There is such a difference
stylistically between the complex passacaglia of the second
movement and the ‘St Trinians’ mood of the finale. And I cannot
quite weigh up the opening movement. Yet the concerto has some
interesting things. It probably deserves its place in the repertoire.
Gordon Jacob needs no introduction to readers of these
pages. However, I think it fair to say that his music is largely
under-represented in the catalogues with only nine CDs containing
his music. This compares to 159 for Malcolm Arnold. The present
Suite was commissioned by Arnold Dolmetsch in 1957. It has been
rightly regarded as a ‘divertissement’ rather than anything
more serious. It is presented in seven well-balanced movements.
The Suite opens with a delightfully ‘pastoral’ Prelude.
This is followed by a lively English dance which is
just way too short. Then there is a Lament. However,
this is not too depressing and has a ‘smoochy’ feel to it rather
than one of heartbreak. The string writing here is particularly
beautiful. It is the longest movement in the suite. I love the
exciting Burlesca alla Rumba which is all sunshine.
This is followed by an epitome of English pastoral – the Pavane.
Here are impressions of fields and rivers and up-and-down dales.
The penultimate movement, an Introduction and Cadenza
is also illustrative of the landscape although this time in
valedictory mood. For me it is the heart of the work. The finale,
Tarantella is fun all the way. Jacob calls for the
soprano recorder to give brightness and sparkle to the last
moments of this Suite.
Michala Petri has some sixty CDs listed in the Arkiv catalogue.
The range of music covered is phenomenal. From Bach to Ole Bull
and from Fauré to Frederick the Great, she has recorded a huge
variety of works. Noted as a child prodigy, she began playing
recorder aged three, took serious lessons at five and by 11
years she made her concerto debut. She often played together
with her mother Hanne, a harpsichordist and her brother David,
cellist as part of the Petri Trio. Nowadays, she often gives
concerts with her husband, the lutenist and guitarist, Lars
Hannibal. Both Petri and her husband run their own record label
Recordings. The present disc is one of more than a dozen
released in the past eight years.
However, it is not just Michala Petri who has given a superb
performance. Jean Thorel at the helm of the City Chamber Orchestra
has contributed a sympathetic accompaniment to these three concertos.
This is an enjoyable CD that is well played and features a diverse
programme. In spite of my reservations about the Malcolm Arnold
Concerto and the stylistic balance of the Richard Harvey I feel
that it will be essential listening for enthusiasts of recorder
music. The presentation of the disc is impressive: it looks
and feels good. The sound quality is excellent. I enjoyed the
liner-notes – they are both informative and entertaining.
My favourite work, by a long shot, is Gordon Jacob’s Suite and
I will turn to this recording to enjoy this piece on many occasions.