“Music by Anthony Burgess and 15 other composers” announces the cover. It is an intriguing concept: a way in, to re-examine an instrument that plagued many of our infant years: the recorder. It can be so painful, yet played well it can clearly (as here) be, well, less painful. Sometimes downright funny, it can also move us with unexpected pathos. There are no great revelations here; rather, many things that pique the curiosity. Perhaps the idea of hearing music by writer Anthony Burgess (who wrote, most famously, A Clockwork Orange ) is enough to draw one in.
Written for the composer’s son Andrew, Burgess’s Recorder Sonatina of around 1990 is a work of more depth than the title might imply. Judicious balancing on the side of the recording team means the recorder line comes through perfectly at all times. Burgess apparently thought of his music as post-tonal, but that might imply an astringency that is not present. The Sonatina seems clearly rooted in the English Pastoralists. More Burgess closes the first disc: the delightful Tre Pezzetti (the counterpoint of the final one is most appealing). Right at the end of the second disc we hear the Sonata No. 1 in C, with the Siciliano as an “encore.” The first movement of the Sonata almost feels fenced in by its 3:40 duration as the ideas seem to have so much unrealized scope. The Siciliano, a mellow farewell to the listener here, is decidedly crepuscular in nature.
Nicolas Marshall’s Sonata (2000) was premiered by the present recorder player in Cambridge. The playful first movement is a fine foil for the central elegy (remarkably expressive music) before the Finale pipes its way in, jubilantly. The performance standard here is remarkably high, the whole final movement light as a feather.
Talking of feathers, there follows Blithe Spirit , one of two “bird pieces” by Alan Gibbs (the title refers to Shelley’s skylark). There is plenty of wit in evidence here, and both players seem to delight in it. More birds: Gordon Crosse’s recent (2010) The Thing with feathers is virtuosic, as well as great fun (the title here refers to Emily Dickinson’s Hope is the Thing with Feathers ). The warmth of Wilfred Joseph’s Sonatine is welcome thereafter, as is the perhaps surprising depth of its rather ominous central Elegy.
Barry Ferguson’s piece uses both sopranino and bass recorders to good effect. The bass recorder is surely rarely heard, but it has a haunting quality that is most powerful. South African composer David Dubery’s 2011 Sonata is short but haunting, with only its tinkling Finale attempting to move out of the shadows.
The idea of Rawsthorne’s Hamlet (composed for the 1961 Stratford upon Avon production) for recorder and piano sounds unlikely but actually works perfectly, evoking the spirit of Shakespeare’s time while remaining true also to the composer’s harmonic language. There is a restrained nobility here that is most appealing. The piano playing here, too, is most tasteful.
The name Roy Heaton Smith is new to me. Manchester-born in 1928, much of his output apparently remains unpublished —a shame, if this pleasant little piece is anything to go by. Turner and Davies put in a beautifully characterful reading. Herbert Murrill’s Sarabande (composed around 1950) is an oasis of calm, with the recorder here tracing a line of unexpectedly ravishing legato. Murrill was a student at the Royal Academy in London of York Bowen and Alan Bush. Peter Pope, a student of John Ireland at the Royal College, provides a pleasant if somewhat anonymous Sonatina (this despite the rhythmic play of the 7/4 first movement). The playful Finale is by far the finest movement. Dick Blackford’s Sonata alla Danza takes three dance forms as the bases for its three movements: Bourrée, Sarabande, and Jig. It is a lovely idea, and the realization is as delightful as the concept.
Christopher Wright studied with Richard Arnell at the Colchester Institute. Turner actually gave the first performance of this piece (in Suffolk). The piece traverses a surprising amount of emotions (the central Cantilena is arguably the most poignant music on this entire recital). The stuttering Finale is particularly interesting in its unpredictability.
Hungarian composer Mátyás Seiber is much better-known (Dennis Brain helped, of course, by championing his Notturno ). His 1941 Pastorale is harmonically characteristic of the composer (it was originally for recorder and string trio) and beautifully poignant. It’s good to have John Sullivan’s Joie de vivre as a counterbalance (it exists in another version for the intriguing combination of recorder, cello, and harpsichord).
A stimulating release.