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Balmoral Suite Robin STEVENS (b.1958)
Balmoral Suite, for recorder, strings and harp (2017) [11:45] Peter HOPE (b.1930)
Geordie Tunes, for recorder, strings and harp (2009/10) [8:13] Anthony HEDGES (b.1931)
Elegy for Tony, for recorder, string orchestra and harp (2017) [3:35] Nicholas MARSHALL (b.1942)
A Playford Garland, for recorder and strings (1982) [8:55] Wilfred HEATON (1918-2000)
Little Suite, for recorder and string orchestra (1950s?) [9:07] Elis PEHKONEN (b.1942)
Twilight and Evening Bell, for recorder, string orchestra and bells (2013) [7:44] David BECK (b.1941)
Concerto No. 2 (Tableaux), for recorder, strings, harp and percussion (2006) [11:41] John GOLLAND (b.1942)
New World Dances, Op. 62a, for recorder and strings (1997) [6:59] Colin HAND (1929-2015)
Saltarello, for recorder and string quartet (1984) [2:55]
John Turner (recorder)
Manchester Sinfonia/Richard Howarth
rec. 2018, St. Thomas's Church, Stockport, UK PRIMA FACIE PFCD101 [70:54]
The listener does not need to be a genius of musical and literary allusion to guess who Robin Stevens’s ‘affectionate tribute’ is dedicated to. Each year Her Majesty the Queen and her family spend time at Balmoral. The ‘eponymous’ suite takes a quirky look at several Scottish dances and suggests some evocative moods with a few twists and turns in the harmonic language. I guess the titles of the movements are timeless, and do not require the listener to put names to endeavours, especially ‘Grandpa hankering after the past’! The heart of this suite is the ‘Celtic’ infused ‘A Graceful Beauty’. This movement is a well-judged balance between the recorder and strings. It is quite gorgeous. The finale enters the ‘rough and tumble’ of the nursery and majors on the exploits of ‘younger Royals’. This is a forceful jig presenting some discordant moments that do not upset the ‘regal’ aspect of this suite.
Peter Hope’s Geordie Tunes have appeared on CD before with harpsichord accompaniment (review). In 2010, Hope orchestrated these five dances. Geordie Tunes are always interesting and just occasionally quite moving. The two slow movements, ‘Bonny at Morning’ and ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ are simply delicious. Who can hear the latter without thinking of the late Kathleen Ferrier? Fortunately, any sense of sorrow is blown away with ‘Bobby Shafto.’ They are a masterclass in the writing of a folk song suite.
The most heart-felt work on this disc is the beautiful ‘Elegy for Tony’ by Anthony Hedges. This was written in 2017 for a memorial concert given in memory of Anthony Goldstone who died in January of that year. The ‘Elegy’ is a masterpiece, with a wonderfully interactive relationship between the wistfulness of the recorder and the deeply romantic sounding orchestra.
A Playford Garland, written in 1982, does exactly what it says in the tin. Nicolas Marshall has taken several tunes from John Playford’s collection, The Dancing Master and has worked them up into a charming suite. Marshall’s original version of this work was for recorder and guitar.
The liner notes suggest that Wilfred Heaton’s Little Suite is ‘concise in scale’ but ‘big in character.’ They evoke a wide variety of moods in a very short timescale. The work opens with a strong fanfare, is followed by a Bartokian dance, and then a grave ‘cantabile’ which really slows the pace of the work down. The fourth movement is a brisk march. Interestingly, the finale seems to be a summing up of what has already been heard. This is the most ‘modernist’ and piquant movement in the Suite. The documentation does not mention when this piece was composed. I am guessing it was probably sometime in the 1950s. It is the most challenging piece on this disc. And one of the best.
Elis Pehkonen’s ‘Twilight and Evening Bell’ is written in ternary form: a vigorous ‘Medieval Dance’ is bookended by slow, thoughtful music that has a bell accompaniment. The bells used on this recording once belonged to early music specialist David Munrow. ‘Extended’ playing techniques occur in both the recorder part and the strings.
The Recorder Concerto was composed by David Beck in 2006. There are three movements. The opening ‘Nocturne’ that seems to be spooky, rather than romantic, makes use of the deep tones of the bass recorder and the ‘rattling bones’ of the xylophone. Super Halloween music! ‘Seascape’ begins with phrases that sounds just a touch like Britten’s ‘Sea Interludes’. But soon Beck’s own hand takes over. This is moody, sometimes slightly turbulent music. ‘Playtime’ begins with a recorder tune that eventually gets into all sorts of trouble: it opens quietly but ends with lots of fun without ever getting out of hand. This Concerto has been well-orchestrated.
I enjoyed the New World Dances, Op. 62a, for recorder and strings by John Golland. Originally written for recorder and guitar (or piano), these three dances were reworked to feature a string orchestra. The opening ragtime is pure pastiche/parody, but who cares? It is quite charming. This is followed by a cool blues of the lazy, ‘gone fishin’ kind. The finale is a rumbustious ‘Bossa Nova’. Here things really get into the groove, with the recorder breaking for the border. A great work and deservedly popular in places where they blow the recorder.
Colin Hands’s Saltarello, for recorder and string quartet is the finale extracted from a three movement Concerto Cantico written for Carl Dolmetsch back in 1983. The composer was unhappy with the work and immediately withdrew it. Some years later it was revised, however, the complete work was now somewhat unbalanced. Especially with a very long opening movement and a finale which is less than three minutes long. So, we only hear this ‘Salterello’, which is sweet and too short really. It ends on a question mark – an interrupted cadence. A ‘salterello’ is an energetic folk-dance from Italy and was popular in the 16th century. It was noted for including leaps and jumps in the melody.
It goes without saying the man behind virtually every work on the CD is the redoubtable John Turner. Where would contemporary recorder music be without him? Every work is splendidly played by Turner and the ensemble. The liner notes written/assembled by the recorderist are most helpful, even if the tiny font is hard on the eyes. The total timing of CD not given, and date of the Wilfred Heaton work is not (as noted above) included.
This CD presents an excellent choice of repertoire. As the cover states: ‘Old Favourites’ and ‘A few rarities.’ Splendid stuff.