April 30, 2012
The recorder was once the frequent province of virtuosi, but as the transverse flute supplanted it, it fell into comparative obscurity – from which it never quite emerged except in period-practice performances of older works. However, it never went entirely out of style, either, and is now undergoing something of a revival: Concerto Incantato by Richard Harvey (born 1953) was written as recently as 2009. This piece, which receives its world première recording in a thoroughly convincing performance by Michala Petri, for whom it was written, is a five-movement work with spiritual and magical overtones in the movements’ titles: Sortilegio, Natura Morta, Danza Spiriti, Canzone Sacra and Incantesimi. Petri makes the music flow naturally and entertainingly from start to finish, bringing considerable charm to a work that combines modern sensibilities with the old-fashioned orientation of a Telemann suite. Sir Malcolm Arnold’sConcerto for Recorder and Orchestra (1988), also written for Petri, is a more-serious piece and sounds more substantial, even though it is much shorter than Harvey’s work (12 minutes vs. 29). Arnold clearly saw the recorder as continuing to deserve the same solo prominence in the 20th century that it had in the 18th. Gordon Jacob, however, saw matters differently: his Suite for Recorder and Strings (1957) takes full advantage of the instrument’s lightness and its ability to create a fleet-footed impression, as if its music is about to take wing. The seven-movement suite, which recalls Telemann even more directly than does Harvey’s work, actually contains more slow-paced movements (four) than quick ones (three). But far from trying to delve deeply into emotional realms, even in the Lament (Adagio),Jacob keeps everything comparatively light and at times even bubbly, as in the Burlesca alla Rumba and concluding Tarantella. Petri is an absolutely wonderful advocate for the recorder, with the three pieces here showing off her considerable skill and their composers’ very different talents as well. May 2012.