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Robert Schulslaper
Fanfare, November 2008

…Michala Petri’s revelatory disc of contemporary recorder concertos… © 2017 Fanfare Read complete review

Robert Schulslaper
Fanfare, October 2008

If your idea of a recorder concerto hasn’t progressed beyond the Baroque, “Movements” will be a revelation, for here are three large-scale works that place the instrument firmly in the 21st century. Amargòs’s Northern Concerto is astonishing for its color, brilliant orchestration, and sheer sweep. The intoxicating opening theme, the fluid mix of tumultuous and lightly textured orchestral writing, allowing the enthusiastic piping of the recorder to be heard without strain, and the sophisticated, yet earthy rhythms confer immediate, sensuous delight. Stunning clarity and an exceptionally animated performance by soloist and orchestra—a tribute to the conductor’s skill as well as to his players’ virtuoso technique—unite in a sonic spectacular. I couldn’t help but respond to Amargòs’s exuberance, especially given my fondness for splashy, exotically tinged music. Pipes and Bells, Daniel Börtz’s one-movement concerto, opens with a mysterious passage that’s followed by rhythmically charged outbursts and moments of pastoral poetry. The recorder’s soft “cuckoo, cuckoo” seems to emerge from and then recede into a mist as the music fades away. Writing about it, Hannibal explains that “Bortz responded to Michala’s wish to explore new and stronger dynamics, recently made possible thanks to some newly acquired instruments: he wrote dramatic dynamic changes and quick passages for the large and usually soft tenor recorder; conversely, the small, normally penetrating and aggressive sopranino is asked to produce soft, long-held tones. This approach affected not only the contrast between the two instruments, but also the extreme dynamics between the soloist and the orchestra, through a mixture of soft, delicate and angelic passages and loud, almost diabolical passages.” Steven Stucky’s Etudes is much more sophisticated than the titles of its movements—“Scales,” “Glides,” and “Arpeggios”—might suggest. Alternately puckish, languorous, and jaunty, it’s consistently colorful and inventive: the inspired orchestration always provides a perfect foil for Petri’s agile, atmospheric playing. In sum, this is a fabulous disc, filled with wonderful music and performances that enlarge our appreciation of the recorder’s possibilities.

Lanier Sammons, January 2008

Movements features three pieces that place perhaps the most humble of instruments, the recorder, in the least humble of settings, the concerto. While the idea of a recorder concerto probably conjures up images antithetical to new music, Michala Petri, the featured soloist on this disc, is out to dispel those associations. To that end, Petri commissioned three contemporary composers and gave us a disc that features compositions for her instrument all written within the 21st century.

The first of these is Joan Albert Amargós’ Northern Concerto. Amargós’ bio references jazz and flamenco traditions along with the classical, and melodic influences from those worlds pop up throughout the concerto. I can’t say that the appearances of these influences always blend cohesively, but owing to the strength of the melodies, I didn’t mind too much. It’s an undeniably drinkable piece that takes some chances pitting the recorder against the full orchestra and largely succeeds. In fact, Petri’s recording earned the piece a Grammy nomination (scroll down to category 107).

Daniel Börtz’s one-movement concerto, Pipes and Bells, takes a completely different tack, focusing on the recorder’s distinctive timbre. Particularly nice is his opening pairing of the recorder and the bass clarinet with some brass stabs thrown in for contrast. At various places in the work the titular bells ring, again offering spectral contrast with the simple profile of the recorder’s pipe. Börtz also consistently gives the recorder plenty of space. The orchestra mostly provides a textural bath, occasionally churning itself into a crashing wave.

The final concerto is Steven Stucky’s Etudes. Like most good works of that title, the piece avoids sounding like any sort study. The three movements promise scales, glides, and arpeggios respectively. Those techniques are certainly delivered, but unobtrusively and always musically. Indeed, it’s here that the recorder sounds most at home with the rest of the orchestra.

With these three clever commissions, Petri offers a convincing argument that the recorder can achieve a place outside of its historical niche. Not once on the disc do Petri and her instrument sound out of place despite the new music context and the potency of the full orchestra. In fact, I’d imagine that these concertos would work quite well on any orchestra’s program.

Uncle Dave Lewis, January 2008

To get a canary to stop singing, you put a blanket over its cage; the recorder family was a whole group of instruments that had the proverbial blanket thrown over it from the time the transverse flute appeared in about 1720 until Arnold Dolmetsch built his first good recorder in 1919. Two hundred years of sleep is a long time, and the recorder’s long eclipse certainly hasn’t aided it in the development of a sizeable concerto repertoire, especially as the recorder disappeared just as the very idea of a solo concerto became common. Arch recorder virtuoso Michala Petri is helping to rectify this situation through commissioning contemporary composers to fill in the gap, and thus to gain pace on the recorder’s arch-enemy, the flute, and her Our Recordings release, “Movements”, is an outstanding example of the very good work that Petri has done on behalf of the instrument.

These are three very different concerti penned by three very carefully chosen composers; what they have in common is that they can create music that is solid and dynamic, yet is neither so sycophantic to the audience that they seem nostalgic nor so academic and dry as to seem forbidding and cold. Spanish composer Joan Albert Amargos has stepped up to the plate and hit a home run with his Northern Concerto (2005), it is dramatic, bold and exciting with plenty of appealing, even lush, musical passages—among “northern” concertos, Albert Amargos’ is perhaps the most tropical sounding ever. 

Swedish composer Daniel Bortz’ Pipes and Bells (2002) is made of somewhat tougher stuff, but is no more alienating than what one might encounter in a typical modern movie soundtrack; Pipes and Bells maintains an excellent sense of dramatic form and employs the widest range of instrumental effects here. Steven Stucky’s Etudes are a bit more rigorous and straightforward than in his usual modus operandi, and are certainly no worse for that. As one might deduce from the movement titles—“Scales”, “Glides” and “Arpeggios”—Stucky’s work is largely given over to patterns of various kinds, most of which reside in the domain of Petri. Stucky’s colorful orchestration effectively punctuates these patterns and overall, it is an intriguing, rather zany work.

Conductor Lan Shui cracks the whip and never allows the Danish National Symphony Orchestra get out of line and the recording, made by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, is astonishingly realistic—you almost hear the percussion sounding behind your head. As one can imagine, Michala Petri is very much on her game here, easily earning and even exceeding even the accolades given her by the composers whose works are represented on this outstanding recording.

The blanket is off the cage, and in OUR Recordings’ “Movements”, the time has come for the canary to sing in the musical language of our time.

Christopher Chaffee
American Record Guide, October 2007

A complete analysis of American orchestral programming is, as we say in academic writing, “beyond the scope of this essay” but I want to posit a general theory here: these stellar works will probably not be heard on stage in the USA anytime soon. True, some orchestras are at least a little adventurous in programming these days and deserve at least a modicum of credit for trying new things. But it is a safe bet that most music directors and arts administrators, when faced with a choice between a brilliant new concerto played on a less popular instrument (e.g. recorder) and an old familiar soloist or repertoire selection will make the predictable, safe choice. That is too bad. I would maybe even purchase a subscription if I thought that my ears, brain, and heart would be challenged at least once in a while.

Michala Petri is clearly an excellent musician, and the Danish National Symphony is a highly disciplined, competent ensemble. If you like challenging new music that is not academic, but still brilliantly conceived, find this. If you do not hear this played by your local orchestra in the next decade, write a letter or stop going. Better yet, spend some time in Denmark, where it seems you can love great music and have a brain at the same time!

Markus Zahnhausen
Klassik heute, May 2007

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That the flute in the last quarter of the twentieth century has been kept in the major concert halls of the world, is in large part thanks to the Danish recorder player Michala Petri. Sometimes eyed enviously, it is always her way away from an old music scene. Her unprecedented international success has its rights. Once a virtuoso miracle child, Michala Petri is now more grownup than ever before—this CD proves it—a mature artist personality. Consistently supported by major record companies, and together with her husband and Duo partner Lars Hannibal, she has founded her own CD label, to be even more devoted to the repertoire which is close to her heart.

A number of years ago, the CD “Moon Child’s Dream” presented some contemporary concertante works for the instrument. “Movements” finally brings three new recorder concerts, especially composed for Michala Petri. All three are exquisitely composed and could hardly be more different.

The Catalan Joan Albert Amargós is one of the most important living composers in Spain. His 2005 Northern Concerto betrays the sovereign master of timbre and the orchestra set. Amargós’ music embraces its origin, a mixture of Mediterranean color and fiery rhythms, which quite surely conceals their color and immediacy into the concert repertoire’s likely tracks. Noticeably, the effect of Amargós’ music is not based on superficial variety, but on the masterly control and amalgamation of form, color and content.

No less convincing is the 2002-written Pipes and Bells from Swedish composer Daniel Börtz. He also belongs to the prominent figures of music life. It is already his second konzertantes works for flute and orchestra (to A Joker’s Tales, composed in 1999/2000 for Dan Laurin). Also, Börtz dominated the orchestra masterfully: cleverly combining the recorder at the beginning with the mysterious dark timbre of a bass clarinet. Börtz developed his material as effectively as exciting: powerful, percussive passages, with bright accents of the orchestra of an almost angelic light.

The 2000 Etudes written by the American composer Steven Stucky features dodgy rhythms, scales rapid movements, glissandos and ostinatos deploying atmospheric sound of no less of an effective and unique art.

Michala’s artistic personality and her outstanding skills are instrumental to the enrichment of the recorder repertoire with these three major works. A phenomenal recording, wonderful music!

Peter Grahame Woolf
Musical Pointers, April 2007

An exemplary production which brings back to notice the virtuoso recorder player Michala Petri, who used to be heard a lot in UK when she burst onto the scene in the already distant past. Now there are many dedicated soloists, who have raised the standard for this once humble instrument to dizzy heights.

These three ambitious concertante works composed for her are ideally contrasted and show Michala Petri now at the height of her powers. I have listened through twice, the second time in reverse order, which I prefer and adopt here.

The American Steven Stucky’s Etudes are sharp, clear and effective, with instrumentation which sets off the solo instrument perfectly. Initially concerned that its range of expression and dynamics would be limiting, he was soon persuaded otherwise, and this is a highly viable work, live or recorded, which deserves widest currency.

Daniel Bœrtz is a significant Swedish composer who sets the variously sized recorders, using their extended techniques possibilities, against spare but highly effective backgrounds, carrying considerable emotional force. This is the piece I shall return to most often.

Amargós’ Northern Concerto is eclectic and colourful, the skilled musician’s "aesthetic multiplicity" tending towards the populist, but far from simplistic. A relaxing, hedonistic work that is ideal for ending a listening session.

The folding-type packaging (far more attractive than jewel cases) is enhanced by beautiful and intriguing paintings (Lars Physant) and good graphic design. Recording quality and balance can be taken for granted and this is a CD which should enjoy great success.

Do consider it in conjunction with Dan Laurin’s equally innovative and successful 21st-century music for recorder.

Jed Distler, March 2007

Anyone who claims that the recorder’s tiny dimensions cannot possibly compete in a solo capacity against a full-sized 21st-century orchestra should investigate these three dazzling and inventive concertos, written for and tailored to Michala Petri’s singular virtuosity.

Spanish composer Joan Albert Amargós’ three-movement Northern Concerto provides the recorder with limber, jazzy melodies that effortlessly float in, around, and above an orchestral canvas that allows all participants to shine, collectively and individually. The brass and percussion get particularly invigorating workouts, while the finale features unexpected yet delightful solo turns from the bassoon and muted trumpet.

By contrast, Swedish composer Daniel Börtz’s Pipes and Bells is a dark, snarling opus, filled with tension-inducing trills, obsessive ostinatos, long notes stretched to the edge of sanity, and the occasional lyrical oasis.

Each of the three movements in Steven Stucky’s Etudes goes way beyond merely addressing specific technique. In the first, for example, the orchestral instruments eagerly take up the recorder’s scale patterns more-or-less at tempo, only to slow them down and scrutinize them as soft, sustained chords hover in the background. The second movement “Glides” features falling glissandos that are more about melodic nuances and expressive gestures than sound effects. The piano, harp, and percussion set off, complement, and sometimes compete with the recorder’s witty arpeggios throughout the third movement.

The sheer musicality and sense of character Petri brings to these works almost make you take her extraordinary technique and tone control for granted. Lan Shui’s brilliant leadership inspires the Danish National Symphony Orchestra/SR to convey all of the color and vivacity that these scores demand, helped by the Danish Broadcasting Production team’s breathtaking engineering.

Don’t miss this stunning release!

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