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Fanfare (US) 3. Review "Hickey has excellent orchestration technique".

May 28, 2017

Robert Carl

Fanfare 3. Review
HICKEY A Pacifying Weapon1 CLAUSEN Concertino for Recorder and Strings2  Michala Petri (rec); 1Jean Thorel, cond.; 2 Royal Danish Academy Concert Band; Clemens Schuld, cond.; Lapland CO  OUR RECORDINGS LP001 (41:50)

Sean Hickey (b.1970) has written a big (c.30’) concerto for recorder and wind ensemble, a combination that I bet has a relatively small repertoire (I can’t think of any competitors offhand). The work’s title is drawn from a line in an Indigo Girls song, and suggests a device that is able to conquer war itself, which of course has always been a dream of art. While there’s not an explicit program, one feels that the recorder is a sort of small but resilient voice that is scampering over often treacherous ground, playful and subversive.
Hickey has excellent orchestration technique. In writing for winds alone, he never creates the sort of thick and heavy sound that sometimes mars such pieces. He has an especial gift for percussion as well, and throughout the piece that section serves as a landmark at important junctures. My only regret here is that there isn’t much exploration of how the ensemble can blend more deeply with the idiomatic timbre and intonation of the recorder (or more precisely recorder family, as Hickey uses several throughout the piece). But then that is probably more a matter of this composer’s taste, not an innate fault of the music.
The second movement has a slightly Stravinskian feel, with open, more neoclassical harmonies, and it culminates with a waltz that surges forth surprisingly, but somehow isn’t a shock either (here are also shades of Shostakovich here). The third movement has an extended dark adn slow passage for bass recorder and percussion that’s perhaps the most memorable in the piece (and where there is that sort of creative timbral blend I yearned for above). The piece ends with a Scottish reel, and the fife-and-drum texture suggests a meeting of the playful and the martial.
If there’s anything I wish more of in the piece, it’s an overall focus. While full of inventive detail, at times I feel as though I’m losing the thread. There’s a lot of material here, and it changes quickly and often, and I wish the recorder wasn’t quite so busy. But it’s played with exceptional flair and precision by Ms. Petri, all that the composer could possibly hope for.
In addition, there’s a “bonus track” listed, which is the Concertino by Thomas Clausen. There’s absolutely no information given about piece or composer on the release, but a quick online search showed that apparently he’s a Danish jazz pianist (b.1949; this is at least as far as I can deduce, considering the Danish provenance of the record label). This is a compact and far more conservative piece--very neoclassical in style--but it does have the focus I mentioned above. It’s neo-baroque slow movement I find particularly affecting.
This is actually an LP release, part of the return to the pleasures of analog (though I listened to it as a pre-release download). Suffice it to say the sound is sumptuous. 29.05.2017 Fanfare Robert Carl