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CD Spotlight, Australia, Imaginative Programming

March 20, 2015

Geoff Pearce

Imaginative Programming
Music for recorder and harpsichord
from Denmark and the UK -
recommended by
'... this partnership works very well musically ...'

First looking at the instrumentation, I imagined that this disc would consist of somewhat astringent neo-baroque music, so I was surprised by the range of styles portrayed. It was really good to see this representation of Danish composers known by recorder player Michala Petri, and much of the music here was written for her. She is very ably partnered by Mahan Esfahani on harpsichord, and this partnership works very well musically — one could not ask for better.
The first work, a Malcolm Arnold Sonatina, is uncomplicated, full of charm and contains the best of Arnold's lyricism. Its three movements are a very happy Cantilena, followed by a Chaconne, a little darker in character, and ending with a cheerful rondo. The artists' partnership here is exemplary.
Henning Christiansen was not known to me, but his work it is Spring, written for six-year-old Michala Petri, is absolutely charming. The opening 'Allegretto', redolent with birdsong, is evocative, quite beautiful and suits the sopranino recorder very well.
The very short closing second movement, derivative of the first, almost seems an afterthought. It ends abruptly, almost in an interrupted or unfinished way.
In the last year of his life, Gordon Jacob wrote a lovely work for Michala Petri — a four movement Sonatina. The opening Allegro, even though quite virtuosic, is never flashy, but always lyrical and joyous.
The second movement, a minuet, begins with a flourish, is quite florid in places, and is, I believe, a homage to yesteryear. The writing is crystal clear and the artists' partnership here is very inspiring.
The third movement is an Adagio which speaks directly to the soul in a heartfelt way, and the last movement is a virtuosic Gigue.
The prolific Vagn Holmboe, composer of some 370 or so works, provides a Sonata written for Michala Petri. The first movement is happy, uncomplicated music, at times reminding me a little of Hindemith. The second movement surprised me with an almost Japanese flavor, reminiscent of shakuhachi and koto. The final Allegro was lovely and evocative.
There are some interesting effects too — at one point I thought I heard singing, and Petri was vocalizing at the same time as she was playing.
The next piece, Tourbillon, by Daniel Kidane — not someone I was familiar with — depicts a watch escapement movement as it counters the effects of gravity. It is somewhat mechanical, but also beautiful at the same time, and interesting to listen to. To quote the cover notes: 'Both instruments take on the idea of breaking away from gravity, but at the same time, they are constrained by moments of tranquility'. Repeated hearings will help you uncover what you will not pick up the first time through. Persevere!
Whilst on a skiing holiday in Switzerland, Benjamin Britten (a keen recorder player) wrote a suite of pieces, originally conceived for three recorders. This is easy listening, and I particularly enjoyed Swiss Clock and Nursery Slopes.
Axel Borup-Jørgensen wrote a quite substantial Fantasia for Michala Petri. It is the most challenging work on this album for the listener (and possibly also for the performers). Unlike anything else I have ever heard, it will require repeated listenings, but is interesting, both melodically and texturally. The two complementary instrumental parts are often quite independent of each other, the more melodic phrases of the recorder contrasted with muted harpsichord.
The final little work, a ballad by Gordon Jacob, was again written in the last year of his life. It is quite folky, and has a section where Michala Petri vocalizes whilst playing — something that intrigued the composer.
I recommend this wonderful disc, and I know that I will dip into it quite often. Hats off to both performers for their commitment to partnership, imaginative programming and the feeling of completeness.
Copyright © 21 March 2015 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia

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