Saturday, 6 October 2012

Brilliant virtuosity from Piers Adams in a re-release from Red Priest Recordings

It says a lot about the revival of interest in the recorder during the 20th Century that a whole disc can be devoted to English 20th Century music written specifically for that instrument.

Red Priest Recordings have reissued Piers Adams’ 1993 recording featuring works by seven 20th Century composers as diverse as Rubbra, Lennox Berkeley and Donald Swann. Adams performs these works with Julian Rhodes, a fine pianist and founder member of Adams’ period ensemble Red Priest, who sadly died in 2001.

A Scottish Suite by (Robert) Norman Fulton (1909-1980) opens with a lively little prelude before a melancholy Scottish air. The third movement Musette, features some intricate interplay between recorder and piano whilst the following nocturne provides some lovely playing, especially in the higher register of the recorder. The work concludes with a lively little reel. What a gorgeous tone Piers Adams draws from his instrument in this piece and what superb ensemble between players.

Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) is best known for his eleven symphonies and his choral and vocal music. He also wrote a large amount of chamber music and the short work Meditazione Sopra Coeurs Désolés for recorder and piano. Written in 1949, it is a set of variations on a 15th Century theme. This is a quiet little gem that creates a beautiful atmosphere and is wonderfully played by this duo.

York Bowen (1884–1961) has become better known in recent times through recordings of his symphonies and concertos. He was a prolific composer who wrote music in many genres. His Sonata Op121 for treble recorder and piano was written in 1946. After an attractive Moderato there is a gorgeous little Andante tranquillo and an Allegro finale that provides some lively virtuosity from the recorder.

Sir Lennox Berkley (1903-1989) wrote his Sonatina for treble recorder and piano in 1939. This is a beautifully conceived work with a strikingly spare adagio with strange harmonies and a finale of real fun.

Edward Gregson (b.1945) is well known for his brass band compositions but he has written many works for orchestra as well as vocal and choral works and instrumental works, including his Three Matisse Impressions for recorder and piano (with he later adapted for recorder, strings, harp and percussion). Inspired by three paintings by Matisse, the work opens with a Pastoral coloured by strange harmonies. There is a dreamy and sensuous second movement and a dance like finale where both Adams and Rhodes bring off the tricky playing to perfection.

Stephen Dodgson (b.1924) wrote his Shine and Shade for recorder and piano in 1975 and it is this work that gives this CD its title. Subtitled ‘Variations in Contrasting Hue’ it crams a lot into its nine minute duration with even blues and jazz elements appearing. Piers Adams displays brilliant virtuosity.

Donald Swann (1923-1994) will probably be known to older followers of this blog as one half of the comedy song writing duo Flanders and Swann (think here of The Gas-man Cometh, The Gnu, The Hippopotamus and so on). Swann later aspired to be a serious composer maintaining a prolific musical output including the music for several operas and operettas. In 1982 he wrote his Rhapsody from Within for treble recorder and piano for the great pioneer of recorder playing, Carl Dolmetch. This is a light and happy piece that nevertheless requires some considerable technical skill from the performers. Even the central Rhapsodico is gently joyful whilst the finale has jazzy overtones.

Piers Adams and Julian Rhodes perform these works wonderfully. The recording is first rate and there are informative booklet notes by Piers Adams. This is a welcome re-release that should not be missed second time around.

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