Fanfare (US) , 2.Review -" Petri is an honest, fabulously talented musician who is doing as much for her instrument, if not more, than any recorder virtuoso has ever done".
August 31, 2015
KOPPEL Moonchild's Dream. GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN Chacun Son Son. RASMUSSEN Territorial Songs ● Michala Petri (rcr); Henrik Vagn Christensen, cond; Aalborg SO ● OUR 6.220609 (SACD: 57:00)
A group of three “Danish & Faroese Recorder Concertos” (as the cover proclaims) might be of only peripheral interest, at first glance, unless one hails from Denmark or the Faroe Islands. However, Michala Petri is a horse of a different color, and her presence on any project practically ensures a worthwhile musical experience. That expectation is not frustrated here.
If you've been following her career, at least on disc, you will know that Petri already recorded Thomas Koppel's Moonchild's Dream about 20 years ago for RCA Victor. (Her partners were conductor Okko Kamu and the English Chamber Orchestra.) That was its premiere recording. She recorded it a second time, a decade ago, for Dacapo, joined by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bo Holten. Thus, Petri seems to be recording this work every ten years, and perhaps the 2026 iteration is already being planned! And why not, because Koppel composed it specifically for Petri. It's a terrific work, and Petri owns it, in more ways than one. This de facto concerto is not programmatic, although it “focuses on the hopes and fears and dreams of a little girl living in the South Harbor area of Copenhagen, one of the poorest neighborhood in the city.” The Danish Broadcasting Corporation commissioned it as a long-form music video, and indeed, Koppel's music sounds, in the best way, like a film score in search of a film. Like many film composers, he makes modern music palatable to even non-specialist listeners by using it to convey mood, emotion, and atmosphere. At the same time, the music is not simple-minded. The listener, like Petri herself, can return to it many times and find something new to enjoy. This is a gentle, wistful, and even hopeful masterwork, and it deserves to be widely known.
I have not heard the Dacapo disc (which includes two other works that Koppel composed for Petri), but I know the RCA Victor release, and I can say that Petri's ideas about Moonchild's Dream have not changed in any fundamental way in the last twenty years, nor are Kamu and the English Chamber Orchestra notably superior to Christensen and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. This time around, I'd say that Petri plays the music a little bit more intimately, and the music's textures are made to seem a little more refined. She no longer has to convince that this is a fine work; over the course of twenty years we have found that out for ourselves. The excellent engineering, which can be appreciated even without an SACD player, probably helps to put it across as well.
The other two works, also written for Petri, are receiving their premiere recordings here. Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's name will not be new to those who are interested in modern classical music, however. Initially a serialist, this composer moved into new territory in 1960s with neo-Dadaist works that “single-mindedly set out to rid music of its affects and affectations.” One might add, “and to free listeners from their expectations.” Chacun Son Son (literally, “to each their own sound”) is less a recorder concerto and, according to the composer, “more a ritual” in which the recorder “is completely integrated into the woodwind section as primus inter pares (first among equals), as the first voice in a long-breathed canon.” Chacun Son Son sounds like a musical representation of a mobile by Alexander Calder. . .a mobile that is blown into motion by increasingly brisk winds before it breaks into pieces. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's music, even though it can seem more like meta-music, smiles mischievously, and it is difficult not to smile back at it. Petri is a good sport about a solo part that really isn't a solo part, and all of the musicians play out their roles with skill and mild-mannered objectivity.
Sunleif Rasmussen was born in 1961 on the Faroe Islands. Coming from such a tiny and remote place, he can hardly help being keenly aware of the natural world, and this awareness seems to color his music. The title Territorial Songs is an allusion to birdsong, which birds use not only to attract a mate, but also to establish their personal territory. In this work, the composer “extends this idea of 'territorial space' to the orchestra, letting some sections play independent of the conductor, marking their own territory in the orchestral landscape.” Thus, the music functions on both descriptive and absolute levels. The recorder certainly can sound like birdsong, and at many times it does in this work, but Rasmussen has more up his sleeve than imitation. In this work he has created a sound-world whose interest derives, in large part, from unexpected instrumental sonorities and juxtapositions. There's nothing cliched about it. Petri and her partners are finely attuned to its shapes and shades.
Early in her career, Petri's youth and physical beauty opened doors for her, and for her recorder. In the world of classical music, as elsewhere, young artists sometimes are forgotten as the novelty fades and new pretty young things appear. Petri no longer records for Philips or RCA Victor, it's true, but now she is more free to follow her artistic inclinations than ever before, and that gives her a loveliness that no skin cream or shampoo could ever hope to lend! Petri is an honest, fabulously talented musician who is doing as much for her instrument, if not more, than any recorder virtuoso has ever done. Raymond Tuttle, September 2015