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Fanfare (US) 4. Review "Petri, the recorder's reigning goddess, is doing much to expand that instrument's modern repertoire. Thanks for that!"

May 29, 2017

Raymond Tuttle

HICKEY A Pacifying Weapon.1 CLAUSEN Concertino for Recorder and Strings2 ● 1,2Michala Petri (rcr); 1Jean Thorel, 2Clemens Schuldt, cond; 1Royal Danish Academy of Music Concert Band; 2Lapland CO ● OUR OUR-LP001 (LP: 41:50)
Although his music has been discussed in Fanfare previously, Sean Hickey probably deserves a few words of introduction. He was born in Detroit in 1970, played the electric guitar when he was in high school, and studied music composition at Wayne State University. The first commercial recording of his work was released by Naxos in 2005, and it was reviewed a year later (Fanfare 29:4) by Phillip Scott, who found it “enjoyable” but not essential. Since then, there have been two releases on Delos. Lynn René Bayley (Fanfare 38:1) opened her review of one of them with a real humdinger: “For a composer who came out of the puerile musical background of rock music (when he was 12, he owned 'a stack of Van Halen records'), Sean Hickey's music has a great deal of sophistication.” Ouch.
A Pacifying Weapon (the title comes from a lyric by the, tee hee, puerile band Indigo Girls) was commissioned by and dedicated to Michala Petri. In his sleeve note (it feels funny to write that in 2017, but this is an LP, not a CD), Hickey talks about all the crappy things that were happening in 2015. He hit upon the idea of a sort of atomic bomb in reverse—one that would cause not sudden death but “instant and irreversible peace.” (Actually, a sufficiently large atomic bomb would produce just that, but none of us would be around to enjoy it.) One wonders if Hickey ever saw the terrific Cold War-era film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” with its memorable Bernard Herrmann score. Anyway, Hickey's score is a concerto for recorder, winds, brass, percussion, and harp, and is not strictly programmatic, although the first two movements, and most of the third, convey varying degrees of tension, conflict, and desolation. Eventually, the third conveys the possibility of peace, with the recorder serving as its harbinger. An authentic Highland reel is introduced, but what initially sounds innocuous and cheerful eventually is revealed as threatening, when the recorder and a snare drum confront each other. At the end, there is a stand-off. I am glad that Hickey did not resolve the confrontation with the facile waving of an olive branch. That would have been unrealistic. This is nicely crafted music that seems made to order for Petri's recorders (she plays several in this work) and the percussion instruments that were available in the Royal Danish Academy of Music. (Hickey thanks its director, Gert Mortensen, also a fine percussionist, for an afternoon exploring the Academy's holdings.) This probably is one of those works that needs to be seen as much as heard. I found it entertaining and communicative, but maybe not something that will make a lasting impression. We shall see. I have no doubts about the excellence of the performance. Petri, the recorder's reigning goddess, is doing much to expand that instrument's modern repertoire. Thanks for that, but let's hope she keeps exploring the Baroque repertoire, because plenty of work remains to be done there as well.
The LP is filled out with the “bonus” of Clausen's Concertino. Because it uses a string orchestra, it is a sensible foil for A Pacifying Weapon. I think that this is the same recording that I reviewed last year (Fanfare 39:3) when it was issued on a CD with other works dedicated to the memory of composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen. At that time, I wrote, “Thomas Clausen’s Neoclassical Concertino is the very model of mental health and Nordic body culture: 20 more minutes of calisthenics and everyone into the sauna! Its Largo is cool and lovely, and its closing Rondo a bracing showpiece for Petri and her little recorder.” Compared to A Pacifying Weapon, it is emotionally uncomplicated, but it is not an easy piece for the recorder. Of course Petri makes light of its difficulties.
I reviewed this not as an LP but as an mp3 sent to me by OUR Recordings. I was a little skeptical about how it would sound, but it sounded great, and I expect the LP will sound even better. For those not equipped to play an LP, perhaps a CD version will appear sooner or later. Fanfare 31.05.2017 Raymond Tuttle