Slidel Classical review(UK)
April 4, 2021
‘Territorial Songs’, a new CD of works for recorder by Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen, may not be everyone’s cup of tea presenting as it does the wonders of contemporary practice, performed with jaw-dropping skill by Michala Petri, pushing the envelope to extend a range of tones and approaches.
The collection kicks-off with ‘Flow’ for recorder and string trio, and featuring the Esbjerg Ensemble. Its strikingly fresh and contemporary sound seems akin to a reformed Baroque, short sharp string stokes complementing the breathiness of Petri’s technique. The central ‘Tranquillo’, however, affords a gentler unison between the solo and the strings, accompanied by a pitter-patter of pizzicato. The closing ‘Rondeau’ is brighter and rhythmic, Keystone Cops chasing tails around a carousel.
‘I’ is a setting of a poem by Inger Christensen in which recorder and chamber choir are at times astonishingly similar in tone. The vocalisation (Stephen Layton leading the Danish National Vocal Ensemble) is ethereal yet strident, mixing male and female voices alongside the subtle counterpoint of the Petri’s performance which transcends from bass to soprano. A highlight of the album.
‘Winter Echoes’ (with Clemens Schuldt conducting the Lapland Chamber Orchestra) appears surprisingly cinematic. A turn away from the Early Music resonances of previous offerings. Not misplaced in a psychological thriller – raw non-vibrato and cooler, spectral, tones emanating from various members of the recorder family. Extraordinary playing, with skilfully controlled portamento.
The titular concerto is navigated by Henrik Vagn Christensen and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. It opens with a clang of bells and a swarm of strings. Again expanding tonal ranges, the soprano recorder is performed with the ‘tooting’ aspect of a penny whistle. The movements bleed into the other, timbres shifting, alongside shining brass and percussive rain, transmuting to something darker.
In the third movement, ‘Espressivo’, low marimbas are disrupted by the trumpet blasts. The recorder, now pan-like, is accompanied by drone-like strings, high and searing. Conversely, ‘Tranquillo’ surrenders the dissonant effect of rock-band feedback in a fading carrion-call itself dying. Joshua Cheek describes this as an “extended, lyrical episode featuring Rasmussen’s first usage of the recorder player simultaneously singing and playing in what functions as a sort of “anti-cadenza”...”
Lastly, celestially, as if somewhere in between Holst and John Williams, yet postmodern and jarring, the final movement leaves nothing settled. Instead, still searching for something new. It is a remarkable album, to place its listener upon a cosmic route.