Michala Petri has been playing recorder for all but the first two of her 61 years, and has had about the most distinguished career I suppose it is possible to have short of playing an instrument such as piano or violin that possesses a huge repertory. Her recording career extends well back into the LP era, and she has been presented on major labels such as Philips and RCA. Petri has not been content with the relatively limited concerto repertory for her instrument and has commissioned, performed, and recorded dozens of works from major composers all over the globe. James Altena and Raymond Tuttle, for instance, both reviewed a disc of English recorder concertos in 36:1, and there are at least 90 other reviews of her playing to be found in the Fanfare archive.
This Danish artist has turned to four American composers for the present recital, three of whom have written music I’ve known and loved for years. Only the fourth, Sean Hickey, is a new discovery for me, and an important one. The disc opens with Prelude, Habanera, and Perpetual Motion, a recorder concerto by Roberto Sierra, a composer who is increasingly becoming one of my favorite living composers. The work began its life originally in a version for recorder and guitar, a combination particularly favored by Petri. In fitting the work in its present orchestral garb, the composer has retained a quasi-guitar feeling through significant use of pizzicato in the strings and certain effects in the percussion. Its light scoring allows the recorder to shine in prominence throughout the work. The opening movement calls for many melismas, and is followed by a dark and mysterious habanera that takes the recorder up into the piccolo range on occasion. I had rather forgotten that the instrument (in its soprano family member) could play that high. The last movement features a constant stream of notes from both soloist and ensemble structured into groups of 3+3+2, a grouping commonly found in Latin American music. Throughout the work, Sierra’s imaginative sonorities and harmonies are on full display, and his writing always carries the listener inexorably forward to an exciting conclusion. Along the way, some extremely quick double-tonguing is demanded from the soloist.
The harmonic language of Steven Stucky in his recorder concerto, Etudes, is similar to that of Sierra, but the two pieces do not at all resemble each other on textural or structural grounds. The Stucky work is conceived in rather improvisatory fashion, eschewing much in the way of formal structure. It also features fairly wide use of special effects such as pitch bends, flutter tongue, mutes (in the orchestral instruments: I doubt it is possible to mute a recorder), and the like. Given the pitch bends, the work bears a good bit of resemblance to music I’ve heard (and written) for Native American flute, where such things are the norm rather than the exception. These also serve to give the piece a haunting quality that is usually absent from most recorder works. The Concerto concludes with a frenetic movement, featuring irregular sequences of notes from both solo instrument and ensemble, punctuated by interjections from instruments such as xylophone and temple blocks. This may be my favorite movement on the disc, and is certainly one of the most intricate and tricky to execute.
Anthony Newman’s Concerto eschews all but five instruments in the ensemble, as he restricts the accompanimental forces to a harpsichord (played by the composer) and string quartet. Readers with good memories will recall my very positive reviews of this composer’s (not quite) complete works, and subsets thereof (including a set of his Symphonies) in several reviews. The present work lives up to the high standard he demands of himself, and this ebullient and bubbly work is sheer delight from beginning to end. Newman has carved out his own niche in the American music scene, in that no one else is writing (and likely could write) music like this. He is, in short, the sui generis neo-Baroque composer of our time, and this work is a classic example of this style. Its four movements include “Toccata,” a note-infused busy exercise, “Devil’s Dance,” a tongue-in-cheek bouncy affair, “Lament,” in which Newman bridles his jocularity in favor of a simple and direct soulful song, and the zany “Furie.”
As I mentioned earlier, Sean Hickey is the new discovery for me on the present CD. His music is colorful, extremely well-orchestrated, and full of imagination and life. His A Pacifying Weapon, a substantial (half-hour) concerto for recorder and ensemble of winds, percussion, and harp, is the first combination of such forces I can recall encountering. Because this very performance has been reviewed in previous issues of Fanfare by Ronald Grames, Robert Carl, and Raymond Tuttle, all in 41:1, and by Colin Clarke (twice: also in 42:5), I need not re-invent a wheel that has so capably been created and treated (why is one of those words three syllables and the other only two?) by my colleagues. Suffice it to say that Hickey does an exceedingly good job in keeping forces that could easily overpower a recorder from doing so, and writing a work for a solo instrument that sounds like none other I’ve heard. I was greatly impressed by it and will be on the lookout for more music by this Detroit-born composer.
Michala Petri’s playing on this recital gives ample evidence why she is nonpareil in the recorder world. I simply cannot imagine these works any better performed. If there is another recorder player out there that could even match her pitch and tonguing accuracy, her musical expressiveness, and her ability to vary the very timbre of her instrument, in fact, I’m unaware of whom that might be. Her playing is superbly supported by the four different ensembles utilized in this concert. Any serious collector of contemporary concertos would be foolish to pass this one up.
Petri is, of course, a genius
Petri is, of course, a genius
As the press materials point out, “it is one of the great ironies of the recorder´s long historie, that despite being ubiquitous in nearly every American public school program, few composers ever explored writing for it.” Be that as it may, luckily we have the international treasure that is virtuoso recorder player Michala Petri, who has commissioned for showpieces of contemporary classical recorder music: each of them written as a concerto… from Roberto Sierra´s and Steven Stucky´s work for recorder and orchestra to Anthony Newnan´s piece for recorder, harpsichord and string quartet and Sean Hickey´s for recorder with winds, brass, percussion and harp. Most of these pieces (two of which are presented here in world-premiere recordings) are bracingly modernist, though Newman´s hark back very explicitly to the recorder´s glory days during the baroque period. Petri is, of course, a genius.
Seit nunmehr 12 Jahren veröffentlicht das kleine dänische Label OUR Recordings eine bislang beispiellose Anthologie zeitgenössischer Blockflötenkonzerte, die im Auftrag der vielfach preisgekrönten Blockflötenvirtuosin Michala Petri entstanden sind. Fürwahr eine Herkulesaufgabe und wahre Heldentat für das vielfach immer noch unterschätzte Instrument, das nicht zuletzt dank Michala Petri inzwischen auch die großen Konzertsäle der Welt erobern konnte. Mit einer Einspielung von amerikanischen Blockflötenkonzerten geht die Serie vorerst zu Ende, und wieder ist dem Team um Lars Hannibal und Michala Petri ein wahres Juwel gelungen: Vier Konzerte wie sie unterschiedlicher nicht sein könnten und doch alles Meisterwerke sui generis. Zwei der vier Kompositionen sind tatsächlich Wiederveröffentlichungen: Steven Stuckys 2000 entstandene Etudes, ein sich mit vertrackten Rhythmen, rasanten Skalenbewegungen, Glissandi und sich über Orgelpunkten und Ostinati entwickelnde athmosphärischen Klangflächen entfaltendes Werk ganz eigener Art. Ein schöner, lohnender Rückgriff auf Movements, die erste CD der Serie aus dem Jahr 2007. Sean Hickeys 2015 entstandenes dreisätziges Konzert A Pacifying Weapon (sinngemäß übersetzt: ein Werkzeug des Friedens) für Blockflöte, Bläser, Schlagzeug und Harfe war bislang nur auf Vinyl greifbar. Das Stück erhielt übrigens die Goldmedaille der Global Music Awards 2017. Für ein zeitgenössisches Blockflötenkonzert ganz sicher eine Premiere und eine „große Bühne“ für das Instrument!
Die beiden anderen Konzerte der CD entstanden eigens für diese Zusammenstellung. Zwar handelt es sich bei Roberto Sierras Prelude, Habanera and Perpetual Motion um die „Bearbeitung“ eines bereits früher für das Duo Petri/Hannibal komponierten Kammermusikwerkes für Blockflöte und Gitarre, doch gewinnt das Stück in dieser völlig neuen Fassung enorm an Charakterschärfe und Ausdruckskraft, deren atmosphärische Dichte sich im Live-Mitschnitt der Uraufführung aus dem Kopenhagener Tivoli vom Sommer vergangenen Jahres widerspiegelt und sich geradezu magisch überträgt. Anthony Newmans Konzert für Blockflöte, Streicher und Cembalo aus dem Jahr 2016 (hier in einer Version mit begleitendem Streichquartett) erfüllt mit seiner neoklassizistischen Grundhaltung, Zugänglichkeit und Spielfreude alle Voraussetzungen, ein viel gespieltes Werk des Gegenwartsrepertoires zu werden, zumal es besetzungsmäßig ein treffliches Pendant zu barocken Solokonzerten darstellt.
The recorder is now a full-fledged citizen of the 21st century.
My first impression of American Recorder Concertos was that it might be a sequel to Michala Petri’s Movements, a disc which I very favorably reviewed in Fanfare 32:2. However it’s actually the most recent of a tantalizing series devoted to recorder concertos from around the word, including Chinese Recorder Concertos, English Recorder Concertos, Danish & Faroese Recorder Concertos, with Pacific Recorder Concertos, South American Recorder Concertos, and Middle East Recorder Concertos still to come. Assuming these meet the standard set by Movements and American Recorder Concertos—and there’s no reason to presume otherwise—these discs must comprise a fascinating introduction to international contemporary recorder concerto repertoire. This newest release presents an inspired program of colorful, imaginative, and highly individual music that beautifully complements Petri’s phenomenal mastery. Just a portion of what so impressed me would include Sierra’s delightful second movement, Habanera, his third movement Perpetual Motion’s inviting 3+3+2 rhythm that prolongs the Latin ambiance, and the same movement’s conga and recorder cadenza; Stucky’s ingenious, high-flying recorder figures, superb orchestration, and sense of humor; Newman’s backwards glance at Elizabethan music that retains all the vitality and melodic appeal of the originals; and Hickey’s full-blown, almost brutal fanfares balanced by dream-like recorder solos, the numerous dance-inducing passages, and the last movement’s unexpected toe-tapping Scottish Highland reel. As Movements stunningly demonstrated previously, the recorder is now a full-fledged citizen of the 21st century and should no longer be pigeonholed as a Renaissance or Baroque holdover. Enthusiastically recommended
Has anyone done more to expand the recorder's repertory than Danish musician Michala Petri?
These four works are further proof that there is no need to “Make America Great Again.” Any country that can produce four concertos that are so different, and yet so consistent in terms of their quality, must already be great, even without any help from the nation's leaders!
Of course it helps when you, the composer, are working with a first-class soloist. Has anyone done more to expand the recorder's repertory than Danish musician Michala Petri? The booklet note states that more than 150 works have been composed especially for her. All of the concertos on this CD were written for her in 2015 or more recently, with the exception of Steven Stucky's Etudes, which date from 2000. (One notes with sadness that Stucky passed away in 2016, a victim of brain cancer.) Stucky's work is in three movements whose titles (“Scales,” “Glides,” and “Arpeggios”) are the only introduction that the music really needs, other than to say that the music is not about developing the soloist's technique; these are not exercises any more than Swan Lake is an evening at the barre! Stucky's work is rich in affect, and the central movement, in particular, creates a fascinating, open-ended emotional space.
The title of Roberto Sierra's three-movement work also is a more than adequate description of its contents. The first two movements are cloaked in mystery. The third bursts into the daylight, and with its Latin rhythms and turns of phrase, reminds us that Sierra was born in Puerto Rico. The original version of this work was for recorder and guitar; even so, Sierra's expert and colorful use of the orchestra perfectly complements the recorder's timbres.
The Concerto for Recorder, Harpsichord, and Strings is one of Anthony Newman's most successful works. Newman built his career as a sometimes unconventional performer on keyboard instruments, and mostly in the Baroque repertory. His latter-day activity as a composer has sometimes been so personal that I am unsure how to approach it. The present work, however, is very inviting in the way that it integrates looking back and looking forward. Once again, the movement titles (“Toccata,” “Devil's Dance,” “Lament,” and “Furie”) just about speak for themselves, and for the concerto as a whole.
I reviewed Sean Hickey's A Pacifying Weapon as an mp3 download in Fanfare 41:1. I liked it, with minor reservations, then, and like it no less now. The title is taken from a song by the Indigo Girls, but for us older farts, think of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still and you'll have a frame of reference. Given the use of multiple recorders, and an ever larger percussion instrumentarium, this piece, because of its theatrical tone, probably works better experienced live. Hickey, born in 1970, is by far the youngest composer here, and is more than a decade younger than Petri herself. He doesn't embarrass his elders, however, and, to mention another science fiction classic, we will treat A Pacifying Weapon as a promise of Things To Come.
The material on this CD was recorded over a period of 12 years in four different venues. Despite that, there is no variability in the awesomeness of Petri's talents, and there are no jarring differences between the recordings themselves, or between the accompanying musicians. I would have liked it if Petri's instruments had been identified because, as you probably know, a recorder is not a recorder is not a recorder; it is not atypical for a piece she plays to call on more than one of them. That said, the booklet is certainly adequate, and the performances are fare more than that.
The indefatigable Michala Petri continues her championship of the recorder repertoire in this beautifully recorded and annotated disc.
The indefatigable Michala Petri continues her championship of the recorder repertoire in this beautifully recorded and annotated discComposer Roberto Sierra’s Prelude, Habanera and Perpetual Motion develops a 2006 piece for recorder and guitar. It is precisely this sort of piece that allows us to rethink what the recorder means (what we associate it with) and what it can achieve. The dark Prelude leads to an habanera that is more like an outline of an habanera; shadowy, elusive and slinky in a specter-like way, it leads to a Perpetual Motion that does exactly what it says on the can, with the underpinning of characteristic Afro-Caribbean rhythms. I very much enjoyed an Albany release of cello music by Sierra played by John Haines-Eitzen (Fanfare 41:5); the sheer vivacity of this “Perpetual Motion” finale reminds us of how alive his music can be. Needless to say, perhaps, but worth restating, that Petri is the nonpareil of recorder players and she is faultless here; the Tivoli Copenhagen Philharmonic is in fine, responsive form under the baton of Alexander Shelley (the son of Howard Shelley, incidentally).
Steven Stucky (1949—2016) was once known mainly as an authority on the music of Lutosławski (I personally remember an excellent lecture he gave at King’s College London to grad students in the early-mid 1980s); now, more and more, we can enjoy his own music. Stucky’s Etudes (Concerto for Recorder and Chamber Orchestra) is a more expressive piece than the title might imply. Each movement has a descriptive title (Scales, Glides, Arpeggios), none of which does justice to the delights inside, particularly in the case of the creeping (and creepy) night music of the central panel. The playing is simply remarkable. All players, not only the soloist, need their full wits about them in the scampering finale: cheeky, glittering, agile, this is magnificent, its virtuoso ed guaranteed to raise a smile. A great follow-up would be Stucky’s Album Leaves and Little Variations for David heard on Gloria Cheng’s Telarc recital (which rightly made it to two critics’ Want Lists in 2008).
The name Anthony Newman needs no introduction to Fanfare readers, surely. His huge output is consistently refreshing, in neo-Baroque style and marked by clarity of line and texture, all features of the little packet of delight that is his Concerto for Recorder, Harpsichord and Strings. Newman himself plays harpsichord. The opening Toccata is busy and expert both from composer and performers (the ripieno is performed by a string quartet) while “Devil’s Dance” has Old Nick in circus mode rather than nightmarish visions. The lower end of the recorder invites us into more interior spaces in the “Lament”; the finale is a proper romp, but listen to how Newman’s harmonies have a magnificent unpredictability about them.
Sean Hickey’s A Pacifying Weapon (2015) has already been issued on an all-Hickey OUR disc reviewed in Fanfare 41:1 reviewed as a download by myself. Interestingly enough, that disc had a neo-Baroque piece also, but that
time by Thomas Clausen (and accompanied by the Lapland Chamber Orchestra). Hickey’s piece’s immediate achievement is to ensure we can actually hear the soloist against such a barrage of wind and brass, but his keen ear and ability to work in plateau of different dynamic levels ensures the soloist more than makes her mark. Reacquainting myself with Hickey’s meditation on contemporary disquiets which uses the solo recorder as the “pacifying weapon” confirmed the stature of Hickey’s utterance. There is a real ear here for finely judged sonorities, and the work sustains its length well via the soliloquizing power of the recorder.
Both the Sierra and the Newman are World Premiere recordings; like the Hickey, Steven Stucky’s piece was released previously by OUR on a disc entitled Movements, there sharing space with music by Joan Albert Amargós and Daniel Börtz. A lavish booklet and detailed notes complete a high-class release.