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Fanfare (US) UK DK is a nice outing for two talented musicians, and furthermore, the repertoire is surprising and sometimes demanding, and always worth the listener's effort.

January 31, 2015

Raymond Tuttle

UK DK ● Michala Petri (rcr); Mahan Esfahani (hpd) ● OUR 6.220611 (SACD: 66:27)
ARNOLD Sonatina, Op. 41. CHRISTIANSEN It is Spring. JACOB Sonatina. An Encore for Michala. HOLMBOE Sonata, Op. 145. KIDANE Tourbillon. BRITTEN Alpine Suite. BORUP-JØRGENSEN Fantasia, Op. 75
First, a few words about this disc's title. The composers represented here are either Danish (“DK”) or British (“UK”). As for the performers, Michala Petri is a Dane, and Mahan Esfahani, although he is Iranian-American, has the large letters “UK” appearing next to the booklet's biographical note about him. That is because he has been very active in England, and currently makes London his home. Petri, as the saying goes, needs no introduction. Esfahani, who was born in 1984, probably is about to become much better known, because he signed with Deutsche Grammophon last year, and his first solo release for that label should be on the “shelves” (if one can continue to use that term) by the time you read this review. He's already released a Corelli disc with Petri (also reviewed by me in this issue), and a couple of very well-received releases for Hyperion.
All of these works were composed specifically for Petri. The two exceptions are Britten's Alpine Suite (a work he composed in 1955 while he and Peter Pears were on a skiing holiday in Switzerland) and Malcolm Arnold's Sonatina, which dates from 1962. Both are played in arrangements. It was Arnold himself who suggested to Petri that she might perform the Sonatina with harpsichord accompaniment. Britten's suite was composed for three recorders; the arrangement for recorder and harpsichord that is heard here is by the performers. One notes that Petri should be very used to playing with a harpsichord, not just because of her Baroque repertoire, but also because her mother Hanne is a harpsichordist. (Furthermore, her brother David is a cellist.)
This is an enjoyable release, although much of the music is feather-light, not just in texture but also in importance. Weight is added, however, by the Daniel Kidane's Tourbillon and Axel Borup-Jørgensen's Fantasia. Kidane, who was born in 1986, has composed an interesting work not based on a whirlwind, as the title might suggest, but on a watch mechanism that bears that same name. In horology, a tourbillon counteracts the effects of gravity on a watch's escapement. Kidane writes, “Both instruments take on the idea of breaking away from gravity but at the same time are restrained by moments of tranquility.” The recorder and the harpsichord are equals in this work, which, while lacking the rhythms of jazz, has something of modern jazz's spontaneity and jaggedness. I'm glad that it was included on this disc because, among all the sweets, it gives listeners something meaty on which to chew.
The Fantasia by Axel Borup-Jørgensen, who died in 2012, is less restless than Kidane's Tourbillon, and less a piece of clockwork, if you will, but it also treats the two instruments as equals. Although its language is seldom consonant, and it is not easy to discern what the composer is trying to communicate, one senses the presence of a personality, and so one's attention remains engaged.
Petri plays four recorders on this disc—sopranino, soprano, alto, and tenor—and Esfahani plays a Dowd harpsichord from 1981. The OUR Recordings engineering team has balanced them against each other perfectly, but the success really is Petri's and Esfahani's, because they clearly are in synch with each other. Petri's wonderful, genial skill remains unchanged since she first appeared on the international scene in the 1970s. Esfahani is an unusually expressive, colorful player, and I look forward to hearing him in a solo role—I probably will check out those Hyperion releases, now that I have heard him here.
UK DK is a nice outing for two talented musicians, and furthermore, the repertoire is surprising and sometimes demanding, and always worth the listener's effort. Raymond Tuttle February 2015

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