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English Recorder Works
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Sonatina (1939) [9.37]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Sonatina Op. 41 (1953) [7.39]
Solitaire (undated) [1.35]
Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet Op. 140 (1990) [13.26]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Suite for Recorder and String Quartet (1952) [20.05]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Meditation Sopra Coeurs Désolés
Op. 67 (1949) [5.47]
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Sonata Op. 121 [12.19]
Jill Kemp (recorder); Aleksander Szram (piano); Brodowski String Quartet
rec. 4-6 September 2012, Potton Hall, Suffolk
MUSICMEDIA MMC103 [70.58]

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 mood.
 
The other work with string quartet is Gordon Jacob’s seven movement Suite. 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.
 
Edmund Rubbra’s recorder works have received quite regular attention from performers and recording companies in recent times. This piece, commissioned by Dolmetsch, based on the 15th Century melody attributed to Josquin, Coeurs Désolés is 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 are lyrical 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 century English music, this is a perfect place to start.
 
Gary Higginson 

See also review by John France