By Joshua Cheek
About this album...
by Joshua Cheek
Nothing in life falls precisely into neat boxes, despite our best efforts to make things “fit”. Consider the two featured instruments on this recording. First, the recorder, which despite its relatively simple design, enjoyed near-universal popularity from the Middle Ages to the
Baroque, played by prince and pauper alike. Then, there is the harpsichord, a marvel of engineering for its time; an extraordinary canvas upon which generations of composers wrote tone poems and toccatas, crafting contrapuntal mazes and virtuoso displays that still challenge the most skillful interpreter. But times and tastes change, and eventually, these quintessential representatives of the musical arts (along with most of their repertoire) were packed away, together with the powdered wigs and knee breeches for a long slumber during the 19th century.
By the dawn of the 20th century, the revival of interest in early music heralded a new golden age for this dynamic duo; as early as 1901 Dr. Joseph Cox Bridge, following upon his extensive research, composed the first 20th century work for the recorder. Interest in the harpsichord soon followed and thanks to the tireless efforts of Wanda Landowska and her Pleyel Grand Modèle de Concert - a veritable dreadnought of manuals, pedals and stops - Europe’s greatest composers were soon supplying a steady stream of masterworks for this “new-old” musical wonder.
The idea for this album and its unusual programme was both personal and refreshingly spontaneous: “We decided to have Danish and English as our frame, since Michala is a Dane and Mahan lives in UK!” explains producer Lars Hannibal. The duo famously gave their first public performance at the 13th international Pharos Chamber Music Festival on the island of Cyprus. The Festival took place during the height of the Greek economic crisis, and with the sudden cutting of bank funds, not everyone could manage to fulfil their pledges of support. Michala and Mahan were among the many musicians who waived their performance fees so the Festival could go on. The English music critic Norman Lebrecht was present that night and excitedly posted to his blog, “Slipped Disc”:
“A match made in heaven”
“The symbiosis was remarkable. When they spoke to the audience between pieces, they finished each other’s sentences. When they played, each anticipated the other’s breath. There was not a stale note all night. The best matches are made in heaven. This one was born of adversity. By the night’s end, plans were taking shape. A legend made in Cyprus will be heard around the world. Banks may crash. The music plays on.”
The fruitful collaboration of these two artists, distinguished for their consummate mastery of the entire range of repertoire for their chosen instruments, provided the additional inspiration to focus on 20th century and contemporary works from their respective homes.
When dealing with an artist such as Michala Petri, one is constantly amazed by her passionate commitment to her craft; she is a true visionary. Her virtuosity has enchanted listeners around the world since she was in her teens, whilst her devotion to building the recorder’s concerto repertoire has been the inspiration for dozens of composers. Indeed, with the exception of Sonatina by Malcolm Arnold, and the little suite by Benjamin Britten, all of the music on this program was written expressly for her.