This Australian production presents a mixed bag. Its virtues, however, far outweigh its shortcomings. On the plus side, recorder virtuoso Tamara Gries has chosen a varied program ranging from an Anonymous 17th-century English suite here titled Masques , through music of three figures of the high Baroque, to three pieces by worthy contemporary composers. The instrumental resources are also effectively contrasted—from the harpsichord solo of the Couperin piece (though which of the two harpsichordists perform it is not stated); through Markus Zahnhausen’s haunting Musica inquieta for solo recorder (of which only the first of its two parts are given) and Rudolf Lerich’s Sonata in A Minor composed for three recorders (here all played by Gries via overdubbing); to Stephen Cronin’s colorful Suite for Recorder and Strings.
My misgivings have to do with the Baroque pieces. They are dutifully, solidly, and rigidly done. The best example of this is found in their performance of Handel’s Sonata in C Major. The opening Larghetto briskly chugs along with little sense of the piece’s cantabile style. The following movements are metrically stolid and undercharacterized. In all cases the playing is technically on the mark, but it misses a lot of the style of this music, not to mention its poetry. For a telling comparison, older collectors are urged to go back to the ancient Telefunken Das Alte Werk LP containing this sonata along with three others of the Opus 1 set (SAWT 9421-B) and featuring recordist Frans Bruggen, harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt, and cellist Anner Bylsma. And, by the way, share it with some of your younger enthusiasts.
Gries and friends are more convincing in Masques , where they project a lot more of the music’s gutsy panache. Their performances of the contemporary pieces, however, present the high point of this release. The three composers—Rudolf Lerich, Stephen Cronin, and Markus Zahnhausen—are tonal and neo-Classical in style. Each, however, has his own strongly defined profile, and each receives fine advocacy here. I would like to tell you more about them, but the fragmentary notes, largely dedicated to describing what can be readily heard, give no biographical data other than to say that “Stephen Cronin is a significant figure among Australia’s established younger composers.” Are the other two Aussies as well? Where and with whom did they study? I would like to know, as I am sure you will, too, when you listen to their music.