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MusicWeb International

February 9, 2015

John France

Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Sonatina for recorder, op.41 (1962) [7:08]
Henning CHRISTIANSEN (1932-2008)
It is spring, op.56 (1970) [6:54]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Sonatina for recorder and harpsichord (1983) [9:15]
Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Sonata, op.145 (1980) [10:51]
Daniel KIDANE (b.1986)
Tourbillon (2014) [10:53]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Alpine Suite (1955) [6:49]
Axel Borup-JORGENSEN (1924-2012)
Fantasia for sopranino recorder and harpsichord, op.75 (1988) [11:52]
Gordon JACOB
An Encore for Michala (1983) [1:58]
Michala Petri (recorder)
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
rec. Garnisons Kirke, Copenhagen, Denmark, 22-25 October 2014
OUR RECORDINGS 6.220611 SACD [66:27]

I began my review of this delightful CD of compositions for recorder and harpsichord with the relatively little known Alpine Suite by Benjamin Britten. This was written whilst the composer was on holiday with Peter Pears and the artist Mary Potter in Zermatt, Switzerland in 1955. It was originally conceived for a trio of recorders, but has been effectively transcribed for solo recorder and harpsichord by Petri and Esfahani. In my opinion this arrangement works better, is fresher and quite charming. There are six movements with evocative titles such as ‘Nursery Slopes’, ‘Down the Piste’ and a romance, ‘Swiss Clock’. My only concern is that it is over all too soon.

I then moved onto Malcolm Arnold. Arnold provided Michala Petri with a number of works including a Concerto op. 123 (1988), the Fantasy for solo recorder, op.127 (1987) and a Fantasy for recorder and string quartet, op 140 (1990). The present Sonatina, op. 41 was composed in 1953 — the liner notes state 1962, and refer to it as a Sonata — for recorder and piano. It was originally dedicated to Philip Rogers. The composer gave Michala Petri permission to play this work with harpsichord. It is an attractive Sonatina that could be considered ‘neo-baroque’ with its nods towards Handel. However, there are one or two phrases here that could only have been written by Arnold.

The Sonatina for recorder and harpsichord by Gordon Jacob is a real treat. Composed in 1983 for Michala Petri, in the year before he died, it is a well-wrought work that is immediately approachable without being banal or pastiche. It is written in the composer’s neo-classical/baroque style with some delightful harmonic twists, which display interest and clarity of sound in equal measure. It has four short movements.

Jacob's ‘An Encore for Michala’ is truly lovely. Written in the same year as the Sonatina it features not only the recorder, but the recorderist singing at the same time. Seeing this effect described in words may make the putative listener wince, but it has to ‘heard to be believed’.

The most recent piece on this CD is ‘Tourbillon’ by the British composer Daniel Kidane. It was written in 2014, for Elisabet Selin, who had requested ‘a very exciting and demanding piece’. Kidane has many musical heroes including Olivier Messiaen, J.S. Bach and Johnny Cash. I feel the ‘modernity’ of ‘Tourbillon’ works admirably although there is nothing of the ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ here. The music owes its inspiration to the composer’s interest in the mechanical action of watches. One key feature of this work is the fact the both instruments act independently and do not lead each other. It is a successful piece and fulfils Selin’s wish.

The score of Henning Christiansen’s ‘It is Spring’, op.56 includes the following note: ‘Longing for Spring. The weather is grey and gloomy/But a girl is standing playing the sopranino now.’ It provides all the background the listener requires. There is nothing challenging or advanced about this piece: it is just full of the joy of living: all gloom is cast away. The sound is almost timeless.

Axel Borup-Jorgensen’s Fantasia for sopranino recorder and harpsichord, op.75 which was composed in 1988 is what used to be called ‘avant-garde’. It is a little bit ‘plinkity-plonkity’ for my taste but nothing particularly challenging to a child of the musical sixties and seventies. In fact there are not a few attractive moments in this piece. I do admit that the high-pitched ‘sopranino’ recorder does not go down to well with a headache. Not my favourite piece, alas.

Vagn Holmboe, like many other composers eschewed the attractions of the post-war avant-garde and wrote music that is largely tonal. He penned a number of works for Michala Petri including a Concerto, a Trio and a ‘Canto e danza’ on a Spanish song. Holmboe’s Sonata is immensely attractive and often beautiful. It explores a wide variety of moods in its three short movements. This is the most accomplished work on the CD.

This is a well-presented disc with a striking cover and booklet. Nevertheless, I do struggle to read the liner-notes when they are black print on a grey background. I guess that artiness sometimes wins out over utility. A good introduction to both artists is included in the booklet. The sound quality of the CD is splendid.

Readers of my reviews may have realised that the recorder is not my favourite instrument: my antipathy towards it goes back a long way. Yet this present CD is so well performed by Michala Petri and Mahan Esfahani that I can heartily commend it without any sense of insincerity. ‘Back to backing’ English and Danish music is a great idea, although I do confess a parochial preference for the English pieces.

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