INKPOT#106: Moon Child’s Dream – Contemporary Recorder Concerti. Petri/ECO/Kamu (RCA)
Contemporary concertos for recorder
Thomas Koppel (b.1944)
Vagn Holmboe (b.1909)
Concerto for Recorder, String Orchestra, Celeste and Vibraphone
Gary Kulesha (b.1954)
Concerto for Recorder and Small Orchestra
Asger Lund Christiasen (b.1927)
Dance Suite, op.29 for Soprano Recorder and String Orchestra
Malcolm Arnold (b.1921)
Concerto for Recorder and Orchestra
Michala Petri recorder
English Chamber Orchestra
conducted by Okko Kamu
RCA Victor 09026-62543-2
by Benjamin Chee
The new-agey title aside, collected here are the world-premiere recordings of contemporary works for the recorder – a genteel instrument from an earlier generation, perhaps neglected today because of its inherent limitations in range of pitch (unless one uses differently pitched instruments) and quality of timbre that also makes protracted listening wearisome. If this is true, then the dedicatee of these works, Michala Petri is certainly making a convincing defence of her beloved instrument.
In the title work, Moonchild’s Dream, Petri, abetted by Kamu, both brings to life in pastel tone-shades the narrative portrait of Koppel’s. This is not a concerto in the classical vein of soloist-ensemble cut-and-thrust, but rather more similar to a continuous Brittenesque soundscape. At some points it sounds very much like a soundtrack out of a movie, such is the strength of the programmatic idiom. The music is quite euphonious; there is, however, a late instance of percussion which becomes quite jarring on repeated listening.
Performed as a single movement without any breaks to the flow of narrative, there are no simple sections for the solo instrument – three of them (alto, soprano and sopranino recorder), to be precise. Ms Petri, for example, makes the complicated phrases of flutter-tonguing much easier than it sounds, or engages in scalar arpeggios and runs that are rarely heard on this instrument. There are maudlin passages which resemble a pastiche of new age music, but the accompaniment by Kamu and the ECO are very sympathetic indeed.
Vagn Holmboe’s Concerto for Recorder, String Orchestra, Celeste and Vibraphone is a more atheletic work than the ethereal strains of Koppel. Thoroughly modern and abstract, this is a three-movement work, each part of equal length. The lark-like figures of the recorder in the last movement are sheer delight – there is even a passage where the soloist vocalizes through the instrument. An artistic novelty, to be sure, but one that brings out the smiles. Somehow, despite that this is a concerto a ménage à troi, the soloists who accompany Ms Petri have not been credited anywhere in the documentation, which is quite remiss.
Gary Kuelsha’s Concerto for Recorder continues in the same idiom, also in three parts. The first movement is full of disquiet and remains unresolved, leading into the second movement which has a four-note motif sounding much like a minor-key version of Rodgers’s Some Enchanted Evening (from South Pacific). Petri renders this thematic material in the various figurations with a fittingly fretful character, against an empathic canvas of strings – again, full marks for Kamu’s accompaniement. Over throbbing strings, the finale is a hectic resolution of sopranino with marimba (hitherto uncredited as well).
The Dance Suite for Soprano Recorder and Strings by Asger Lund Christiansen is the only work in which the soloist is confined to a single instrument, a collection of five miniatures based on Danish folk tunes and incorporating modern idioms. There are clearly touches of neo-baroque juxtaposed with dissonant harmonies in this melting-pot of the old and the new.
Petri is given the role of the eponymous dancer, with whirling rhythms and energetic figures throughout the work. Indeed, there are no “slow” movements in this five-movement suite; even the middle movement is taken at what could be generously described as a leisurely stroll. The most eclectic of all the movements is the fourth, a modern-day “gavotte” with weird twists of melody – one feels that Stravinsky himself would have approved. The support from the orchestra is subtle that it remains inconspicuously in the background.
Malcolm Arnold’s Recorder Concerto is the final and shortest work on this album, three movements lasting a total of ten minutes. Of the five composers in this anthology, Arnold is also the most classically-inclined: there is a clear differentiation of style from the four preceeding Danish composers. Experienced listeners will immediately recognize Arnold’s unmistakable ebullient style; newcomers will get more than a hint of what it’s like.
In the musical dialogue – monologue, really, with the soloist chattering and the orchestra only providing the occasional hemming and hawing – of the Lento, there are touches of musical wit and poetry. The arpeggios of the last movement positively fizzle with Petri’s virtuosity.
The quality of this recording is atmospheric, with the recorder’s diminuitive sound forward and well-balanced against the orchestra. The background noise is ambient and perhaps not as immaculate as expected, but on the whole, there can be no complaints about the usual high quality of sound engineering.
Michala Petri provides a great deal of insight for these items – in her own words, “I seek to adapt the recorder to their music. In that way it gains a new identity and is forced to be as expressive as they want it to be.” By referring to the recorder as a separate entity, she plays down her role as the exponent who brings the recorder to life with palliative modesty. Trite as it sounds, this album is a superb showcase for her and the art of the modern recorder.
7xx: 20.8.2000 Benjamin Chee