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Fanfare Magazine (US) -This is one of the best CDs of recorder music that I have ever heard.

August 31, 2012

James A. Altena

This is one of the best CDs of recorder music that I have ever heard.
HARVEY Concerto incantato. ARNOLD Recorder Concerto. JACOB Suite for Recorder and Strings • Michala Petri (rcr); Jean Thorel, cond; City CO of Hong Kong • OUR 6.220606 (SACD: 59:06)
Titled English Recorder Concertos, this release presents three works of that genre, the first being a premiere recording by its original performers, who gave the first public performance of it in October 2009. The Concerto Incantanto of Richard Harvey (b. 1950), who is primarily known as a composer of music for films and television, is touted as “a new concerto for the Harry Potter generation.” Scored for the solo protagonist and a chamber orchestra of strings, woodwinds, piano, celeste, and percussion, its five movements (in an alternating fast-slow-fast-slow-fast sequence) sketch musical portraits of magic and spirits. Fortunately, it is mostly much better than what such an advertisement might lead one to expect; while definitely lighter fare, it is tuneful, atmospheric, and thoroughly enjoyable. As part of both the mood coloration of each of the movements and a display of virtuoso pyrotechnics, the soloist switches off at various points between sopranino, soprano, treble, and tenor recorders. The opening “Sortilegio” (Sorcery) requires use of the first three of those, with the soloist whooshing about in rapid runs and similarly tricky passagework. In the succeeding “Natura Morta” (Still Life), the composer turns to the deeper-toned tenor instrument and draws upon chiffs and other sounds and techniques from folk instruments such as the end-blown flute of North American Indians and the Chinese xiao. This is the one movement I do not care for, as portions of it sound too much like clichéd film music accompanying shots of African savannahs or dawns in East Asia and the western American plains settings. “Danza Spiriti” (Dance of the Spirits) is a scherzo that returns to both the use of sopranino and soprano recorders and to the flitting strains of the opening movement. The quiet “Canzone Sacra” (Sacred Song) that follows employs the lower register of the treble recorder and a stately hymnlike tune known as the “English Theme.” Finally, the concluding “Incantesimi” (Spells) brings the proceedings full circle with the soprano recorder chattering away in double-tonguing articulations and exhilarating flight in double-time.
Malcolm Arnold likewise composed his three-movement concerto for Petri, albeit back in 1988. It is a terrific piece, and there is no mistaking its sturdy British contours. A slightly waggish first movement in sonata form alternates between major and minor modes. The subdued second movement, a passacaglia, has an air of mystery, but again somehow suggests that it not be taken too seriously. Skipping triplets and sextuplets dominate the march-like finale.
The 1957 Suite for Treble Recorder and Strings of Gordon Jacob, a sequence of seven movements modeled upon a Renaissance dance suite, was reviewed by me in Fanfare 34:5 in a version for string quartet. Having now heard it both ways, I actually prefer the fuller-bodied chamber-orchestra version offered here.
Michala Petri hardly needs any praise from me to add to her critical laurels. Given the subject of the first work, suffice it to say that her playing here is appropriately bewitching, and the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong and conductor Jean Thorel provide excellent support. The SACD recorded sound is exceptionally spacious and full-bodied; the booklet is lavishly illustrated with color photos of scenic English countryside, Stonehenge, and shots of the performers in Hong Kong. This enchanting disc has my spellbound recommendation.
FANFARE: James A. Altena, September 2012

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