Fanfare 1 (US) Presenting as it does three sensational 21st-century concertante works, exceptionally well-played and recorded, this release should certainly be explored by an audience much broader than just fans of the recorder, or even of the redoubtable Michala Petri.
May 14, 2016
Ronald E. Grames
ZAHNHAUSEN Recordare. BOLLON Your Voice Out of the Lamb. KOCHAN Music for alto recorder, 25 string instruments, and percussion Michala Petri (rdr); Christoph Poppen, cond; Odense SO OUR 6.220614 (SACD: 54:04)
With Frans Brűggen gone in 2014, just a couple of months short of his 80th birthday—though in actuality he had focused more on conducting during his last several decades—Michala Petri contin-ues largely alone as the most obvious flag bearer for her instrument, maintaining a busy performance and recording schedule. The biggest change: Where at the start of her career she played predominantly Baroque and Classical period music, largely because that was what her recording companies wanted, she now is the foremost champion of contemporary music for her instrument. Petri would, I suspect, be quick to point out that there are many others, including recorder virtuoso Markus Zahnhausen, whose Recordare (2015) opens this program of premiere recordings. Petri commissioned the work from him; Zahnhausen inspired the late Gűnter Kochan’s Music for alto recorder, 25 string instruments, and per-cussion (2000) as he was himself inspired by his mentor’s work in writing his own concerto. Petri is the dedicatee of conductor/composer Fabrice Bollon’s recent Your Voice Out of the Lamb. This could all be very insular, in the purview of only recorder players and their circle. It is Petri—her name well-established with a more general audience—who gives many such works visibility, not least in the ever growing catalog on her label OUR Recordings.
So what do we find in this trio of new works upon which Petri now shines her light? As it turns out, three strikingly inventive, attractive, and largely accessible works to add to the growing repertoire. Zahnhausen’s concerto, reflecting perhaps its Requiem Mass namesake, is primarily a somber, pleading work: a “monument against war” and a remembrance of his grandfather killed in World War II. It is understandably dark and foreboding, even haunting, with moments of intense agitation: a moving and profound work. In contrast, Bollon, keeping with a stated goal of enriching his own genre by looking for inspiration outside, has created a more upbeat, possibly nostalgic, tribute to the seminal 1974 pro-gressive rock album The Lamb Lies down on Broadway by the British band Genesis. The composer has not created a particularly rock concerto—certainly not until the beat-driven last movement—but rather incorporates characteristic “short, pithy motifs” and “harmonic twists” from the album into a distinctive and often quite witty work, occasionally reminiscent of minimalist and electronic works of the same period. The sound, while generally symphonic, is unusual for the use of electronic keyboard and an or-chestra devoid of high strings, woodwinds and horns, with tuned percussion and drum set added to subtly suggest the “band.” The composer calls for recorders ranging from sopranino to contrabass, which are amplified and sometimes manipulated through a digital effects device to produce echoes, loops, and delays that become an integral part of the orchestral texture while retaining the characteristic sound of the instrument. It is not at all avant-garde; rather it evokes the 1970s sound world created by these pioneers.
At that, these first two works are fairly traditionally tonal; the Kochan Music for alto recorder is more tonally elusive, and therefore may initially prove less immediately approachable. It is also, howev-er, elegant, poised, strikingly beautiful, notably in the lyric Andante tranquillo movement, and intensely emotive in the Molto sostenuto. In many ways, it is an exploration of the expressive range of the record-er, a range much broader than was apparent 40 years ago when Petri first came to world attention. Not surprisingly, she is amazing throughout these three works, exhibiting her usual peerless technical skill—the Bollon was written to be “borderline unplayable” and she makes it sound easy—and responsive to every interpretive demand. I suspect that there is some amplification in the solo line in the works where it is not specifically acknowledged, though Zahnhausen, being a recorder player himself, seems espe-cially sensitive to balance and employs clever methods to assure audibility of his soft-voiced soloist with the orchestra. The sound is exceptional—another impressive OUR Recordings DXD ultra-high resolution recording—and conductor Christoph Poppen and the very fine Odense Symphony Orchestra are alert to every nuance of these varied and often challenging works.
Recommendation? That is easy, and needs no qualification despite the relatively unknown com-posers, repertoire, and instrument. Presenting as it does three sensational 21st-century concertante works, exceptionally well-played and recorded, this release should certainly be explored by an audience much broader than just fans of the recorder, or even of the redoubtable Michala Petri. Ronald E. Grames