So many British composers, for much of the 20th
Century and now into the 21st
, have taken the recorder seriously.
Since those days, just before the Second War, when Carl Dolmetsch began
his campaign for its revival many, many works have poured from the well-known
and less well-known.
This disc offers some of the better known, mainly repertoire works,
but also others that are not so often heard. It’s good to have
them all ‘clubbed’ together.
Technically, the recorder is often difficult to tame. Its dynamics are
limited and expression marks can tend to be little differentiated. Jill
Kemp is a wonder and overcomes all of these problems and does so with
alacrity. Lennox Berkeley’s Sonatina
is an example of what
I mean and makes a good a starting point. It was one of Dolmetsch’s
early successes and consists of three movements. The middle one is very
expressive and like the lively Rondo finale gives the performer a chance
to demonstrate differing articulations, rhythmic attacks and tone qualities.
It achieves this through subtle use of vibrato and also through straight
pitches, as it were. The opening of the finale comes off with great
precision and clarity. Not a note is wasted in this elegant composition.
Next comes Malcolm Arnold’s Sonatina
. In three movements
there is a lyrical Cantilena, a rather dark Chaconne and a happy little
Rondo - almost film music as Andrew Mayes, in his excellent booklet,
admits. Written just after the 2nd
Symphony it shares some
material with its finale. There are two other Arnold works on the disc
and they are utterly contrasting. The brief Solitaire
began life as a cheerful, tuneful tobacco advert. The Fantasy
for Recorder and String Quartet is one of the composer’s last
pieces and is rather ghostly and austere and indeed spare. There are
five connected movements - two very slow. Arnold indulges in a wonderful
effect which the dedicatee Michaela Petri employed in other commissions,
that of vocalising into the recorder. This is heard in three of the
movements. He also demanded a ‘flautando’ effect. It is
an odd piece and even its final Vivace does not blow away its singular
The other work with string quartet is Gordon Jacob’s
. The titles display a seeming stylistic variety.
They include a Pavane, Burlesca alla Rumba, Tarantella and Lament. The
latter is a beautiful piece while the Pavane uses Dowland’s falling
motif at the start and the Tarantella provides a really virtuoso ending.
It is a wonderfully consistent and indeed ‘romantic’ piece
in many ways. The writing for the recorder is incredibly idiomatic and
grateful and the strings are definite partners, not accompanists. It’s
the longest piece on the disc and a real highlight.
recorder works have received quite regular
attention from performers and recording companies in recent times. This
piece, commissioned by Dolmetsch, based on the 15th
melody attributed to Josquin, Coeurs Désolés
one of his best known and was even recorded by the late, great David
Munrow. Others who have recorded include Ross Winters (BMSCD425) and
The Flautadors (Dutton CDLX 7142). This new version stands up perfectly
against the competition. The articulations are neat and the mood and
style are well captured throughout.
The first two movements of York Bowen’s Sonata
and suit the treble recorder ideally. For the third the composer, writing
for Dolmetsch, asked for the descant. It serves as a lively, frolicy
and showy finale of great charm. It contrasts neatly with the ‘tea
on the vicarage lawn’ atmosphere of the first movement. In the
last twenty years we have come to realise that Bowen was a versatile
and significant figure and not just a pianist/composer. This work adds
to his reputation.
As indicated above Jill Kemp is a superb player but one must not overlook
the contribution of pianist Aleksander Szram who is sensitive and plays
with clarity of pedalling and fingerwork. It’s a real partnership.
The Brodowski String Quartet is also ideal in the two longer works.
So, if you fancy getting to know some 20th
music, this is a perfect place to start.
See also review by John