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James A. Altena
Fanfare, March 2011

Except for the Malcolm Arnold Concertino, written in 1953, all the works featured here were composed in the last two decades of the previous century, and are scored for soprano recorder and string orchestra. (The pieces by Thomas Pitfield and Edward Gregson add some percussion, and Gregson throws in a harp for good measure.) Despite their recent vintage, they are without exception written in an unapologetically tonal and tuneful vein, with nothing more dissonant than one of the more conservative scores of Vaughan Williams. Most are laid out in the traditional three-movement fast-slow-fast structure, though Philip Lane’s Suite Ancienne—the only one cast in a neobaroque style—is a four-movement dance suite instead, and the Ian Parrott work has only two movements. The other exception, Alan Bullard’s Recipes, is a whimsical five-course aural degustation, with movements titled “Coffee and Croissants” (cast as a French-style waltz), “Barbecue Blues”(penned in a decidedly jazzy vein, with a good deal of flutter-tonguing for the soloist), “Prawn Paella” (using a habanera) “Special Chop Suey” (based on a pentatonic scale), and “Fish and Chips” (offering a “veddy” British circus gallop). Everything here is elegantly crafted, and generally light-hearted, graceful, and ingratiating; only the Parrott Prelude begins with a surprising (and effective) dramatic starkness. Soloist John Turner (for whom all the works except the Arnold Concertino and Pitfield Nautical Sketches were composed), conductor Gavin Sutherland (and composer Gregson in his own work), and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia all turn in handsome and delightful performances. The recorded sound and booklet notes are both up to the usual Naxos standard. If, like me, you love recorder music, you will snap up this delectable bonbon without delay.

Record Geijutsu, February 2011

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Todd Gorman
American Record Guide, January 2011

Turner plays with great skill and accuracy, and soloist and orchestra are heard clearly. There is plenty of background on the composers in the notes, which include publishers for all the works.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, November 2010

A disc of English music that gets to be called ‘light’ which is all too often considered to be a derogatory term. Those of us to whom English music is important and who wish to promote it as much as possible must admit that John Turner is a wonder. He has been recording, encouraging and commissioning English recorder music for many years. The long roll-call of composers - of which I am one - are queuing up to hear him play their music. This disc is a re-issue of an a 2000 release on the Olympia label. Since then, amongst many contributions, he has added English recorder concertos in 2002 (ASV WHL 2143) and ‘Over the Water’ (Dutton CDLX 7191). Some composers have featured on at least two of Turner’s earlier albums so we have Philip Lane here. He was also on the ASV disc above.

Thomas Pitfield was a Mancunian as is John Turner who greatly loves and respects his music. His Concerto for Recorder and String Orchestra and Percussion, first played by Turner, is the longest work here. Pitfield was also an illustrator. His portrait of John Turner is a part of the booklet as is the wonderful cover sketch. If you know Pitfield’s autobiographical volumes No Song, No Supper and the follow-up A Song before Supper (Thames Publishing, London) then you are well aware of his talents. The Concerto’s three movements have the usual melodious charm. There’s also rhythmic interest - for example the second movement is in 7/8 time. The first movement is a succinct sonata-form using the descant and treble recorders. The second uses the tenor and the third the descant.

As an example of a perfect miniature you could do no worse than hear Pitfield’s other work here: the Three Nautical Sketches. This is in three compact movements which play with melodies such as We be three poor mariners and Donkey Riding in the Quodlibet movement one, Tom Bowling in movement two and The Keel Row in movement three. England is here in a time-warp but fashion needs pushing to one side and the craftsmanship and fun of the music can be fully appreciated. That comment applies to all of the works on this CD; they are open to be enjoyed by anyone and yet have an individuality and an interest all of their own.

Philip Lane’s piece opens the disc. His music and his arrangements have become well-known and have often been recorded, for example his fun Suite of Cotswold Folk Dances (ASV WHL 2126) available on that sadly finished series British Light Music Discoveries. Something of that world lives in this recorder work the Suite Ancienne with its dance titles harking back to the 18th Century (not too ancienne!) An Intrada - movement 1, perhaps a little renaissance, then Courtly Dance - movement 2, Minuet - movement 3 and Revelry - movement 4. Actually this piece exists in three forms. Its original was written to accompany a pageant celebrating George III’s visit to Cheltenham in 1788. Then Lane made out of it a piece for recorder and piano which John Turner first performed in New Zealand in 1993. Now we have the orchestral version. The style is gently English - Last of the Summer Wine-type - but most enjoyable for all that and not a little nostalgic.

Philip Lane also had a hand in Malcolm Arnold’s Concertino for recorder and string orchestra as he orchestrated it with composer’s permission. It is in three short movements, a long-lined Cantilena, a melancholy Chaconne and an all too brief Rondo alla Tarantella. It was the last of four concertinos for various woodwind instruments that Arnold composed in the immediate post-war years and has material related to the contemporary 2nd Symphony including some harmonically quite ambiguous passages. An interesting piece.

It was a good idea to wheel out Edward Gregson to conduct his own Three Matisse Impressions as he obtains such gorgeous sounds from his strings, harp and percussion. I decided to listen to the piece whilst looking at three paintings although in the case of the opening Pastoral I wasn’t too sure which painting - possibly the Open Window: Collioure of 1905. The sounds and the floating harmony seem to match the bright and serene boats glimpsed above the pot plants. The second movement Luxe, calme et volupté is a reminder of how much Matisse liked to paint nudes; there is a 1905 beach picture with this title which is remarkable for its southern light which Gregson delightfully captures. Matisse’s most famous picture is Dance of 1913. It has been said that the painter was quite “disturbed by the aggressive frenzy of this work” (Nicholas Watkins, Phaidon Press, London, 1992). I have to say that Gregson goes in more for lithe nymphs and, changing to the sopranino for the last bars, just emphasizes the point. The painting’s dark colours are not matched in the music. But so what, it’s a lovely and charming mood and anyway Matisse with his two masterpieces Dance and Music is a great choice to tap into for any composer. That said, one grizzled old painter by the harbour in Collioure once told me that he thought Matisse a charlatan.

Although often referred to as being Welsh Ian Parrott is in fact a Londoner but has worked in Wales for much of his life and has found the landscape and culture of the country inspirational. The Prelude and Waltz begins in a rather serious mood in his often typically chromatic and tonally ambiguous language. The ensuing Waltz lightens the atmosphere. It’s one thing to dream a catchy melody yourself, but for your wife to do so is somewhat unusual. Mind you this happened soon after Parrott remarried at the age of 80! This is the melody of the waltz which although a little faltering towards the end is almost entirely happy and suitably carefree for a newly married couple.

David Lyon’s Concertino is a lovely piece in three movements which really gives the recorder a chance to shine in many decorative and quite demanding passages although always written at the service of the music. John Turner, as on the entire CD, is foot-perfect both in intonation and character and at every turn his playing is an absolute delight. The movements are Badinage, Réverie based on two waltz tunes and Promenade which uses a melody Lyon had written for a TV theme.

The CD ends with a charming work by Allan Bullard Recipes for recorder and string orchestra. The deft and imaginative orchestration belies the fact that originally this was conceived and first performed by John Turner as an unaccompanied piece. It falls into five movements, first a delightfully French Coffee and Croissants (on a Parisian pavement no doubt at nine in the morning watching the world go by), secondly an indolent Barbecue Blues followed by Prawn Paella with quotes from Bizet. Then an exotic and neatly arranged Special Chop Suey and finally Fish and Chips. Here I found my imagination running to a visit to Morecambe a few years ago and eating F&Cs on the seafront while the circus trundled past.

Finally, a question in light of the small-scale works here, and not a criticism. Has anyone out there written a large scale serious-minded work of say thirty minutes duration for recorder and orchestra either for John Turner or Michala Petri or any player? I would love to know if there are some big modern concertos for the instrument. [See Chinese Recorder Concertos on Our Recordings 6.220603. Michala Petri plays music by Jianping TANG, Bright SHENG, Shui-Long MA and Yi CHEN - Ed.]

Anyway this is all wonderfully approachable music and a marvellously entertaining disc. Buy it.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, October 2010

All of the performers and production team are hugely experienced so this disc wears its quality lightly like a favourite coat. Of the seven composers represented five are still alive but this is very much the friendly face of contemporary music. Authenticity in performance is further guaranteed by the fact that six of the eight works were premiered by the soloist here—John Turner—in their recorder form. All are in multi-movement suite or concerto/concertino form and in turn the majority of the movements could be termed miniatures. With the exception of the Gregson Three Matisse Impressions, which adds a harp and percussion, and the Pitfield Concerto which adds percussion, the accompaniment is for strings alone. The strings are drawn from the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia and are deftly directed—again with exception of the Gregson which the composer conducts—by their long-term associate, Gavin Sutherland...Philip Lane’s Suite Ancienne opens the disc. Lane appears elsewhere on the disc as the arranger of the Malcolm Arnold work and as the disc’s producer. This - and the Bullard Recipes - are the most overtly ‘light’ pieces of music; here the former belying its origin as incidental music for an open-air pageant in Bath. Deliberately written in a pastiche style this is a pleasant if rather inconsequential curtain-raiser. I liked the second movement [track 2] Courtly Dance the most. Lane has made something of a speciality of arranging Malcolm Arnold’s music and his version of the Arnold 1953 Sonatina is very successful. This is a perfect example of a composer being able to be true to his very personal voice while writing for an instrument that was by definition outside his normal experience. As with so much Arnold there is an uneasy subtext to the superficially lyrical music. The accompanying string parts are relatively sparse and the harmonic shifts—although far from radical—are far less predictable than in some of the works offered here. As elsewhere, John Turner plays with a coolly chaste tone and fluent technique. Lane’s orchestration throughout is thoroughly idiomatic and totally convincing to the point you forget it is not an original piece of work. In this version it harks back to the same composer’s Sinfoniettas or perhaps most closely—literally given its opus number of 39—the little played Oboe Concerto. I never cease to marvel at the emotional weight that Arnold is able to invest in music of even the slightest form.

Naxos have been pretty good to Thomas Pitfield. Aside from the two works featured here—the only composer with more than a single representation—they have recorded a disc of his two piano concertos...The concerto here constitutes the longest single work and is a model of craftsmanship and it shows up the quality of the orchestral playing—it offers some lovely nimble and deft playing...For me the discovery of the disc is the Gregson Three Matisse Impressions. This is a work where each of the three movements feel ‘bigger’ than their brief time-frames. Gregson uses the extra colour of the harp and percussion sparingly but to telling effect. Listen to the very opening Pastoral [track 11] where hanging string chords over harp arpeggios instantly create an atmosphere that has been absent from all the other music on the disc to this point. The use of percussion adds to the archaic, slightly mysterious landscape. Turner plays beautifully expressively here as well. The whole work has a limpid sense of aptness in terms of scale and content and style. Apparently it was originally written for recorder with just piano accompaniment. However this version sounds so very right I cannot imagine the composer does not now see this as the preferable form for the work. David Lyon’s disc in the Marco Polo ‘British Light Music Series’ was one of the unexpected highlights of that collection of recordings with the horn concerto there a real find. His Concertino recorded here contains many of the same virtues of that disc. He is a composer who is able to write music which syncopates and swings without artifice or affectation. Rhythmic side-slips are a natural part of his musical vocabulary as is a slightly jazz-inflected bluesy harmony. The central nonchalant Rêverie [track 15] is a delightful example of the latter and it benefits hugely from a perfectly judged performance from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia—cool and classy without lacking engagement. Thomas Pitfield’s second contribution to the disc are the three brief Nautical Sketches. My favourite movement here is the central Meditation on Tom Bowling [track 18] if only to hear this very beautiful tune in a context that is anything except the Last Night of the Proms. Here, the counter-melodies weave around the recorder’s rendition of the famous tune giving a distinctly modern twist. The closing Keel Reel is another excellent example of the neat and tidy distinction of all the playing—great fun.

Ian Parrott’s Prelude and Waltz was written when the composer was eighty-one and again is a weightier work than the title alone might imply. The Prelude has an angularity and a terseness that sets it apart—and makes a welcome differentiation from the lyrical good humour of much of the rest of the programme. The main theme of the following Waltz came to the composer’s wife in a dream. Parrott is able to let the melody and harmony slyly slip away from the obvious just enough to ensure individuality and character. For much of the time the recorder part ornaments the main musical argument which is carried by the strings. That said, this is the only work to contain a series of mini recorder cadenzas before the opening prelude material returns. I can only assume that the work represents a fairly minor chip off a greater block that consists of some five symphonies and four operas but it does encourage me to seek out more substantial works from this composer’s pen.

The CD closes with Alan Bullard’s Recipes. Another very well crafted work it takes the neat—albeit not original—conceit of giving each movement culinary titles which leads to each brief piece assuming a ‘national’ character...the closing movement Fish and Chips provides the performers with an excellent encore crowd-pleaser rounding the disc off in scintillating manner and reminds us once more of the quality of the players involved.

A quick word about the understatedly excellent engineering and production which keeps Turner’s recorder(s) in a realistic perspective without overly recessing the accompanying strings. It is much harder to achieve this kind of natural balance than it might first appear. Add Turner’s illuminating notes and a couple of lovely pen and ink illustrations from Thomas Pitfield and you have a thoroughly engaging CD...which is a gently life-enhancing potter through the less demanding pathways of the repertoire for recorder and strings.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2010

The growth of interest in Early Music has given a new lease of life to the humble recorder, today’s composers placing the instrument in a modern orchestral setting. We have also entered a new generation of players who can produce the most brilliant dexterity, while reminding us that there is a whole family of recorders at their disposal. In the right hands it becomes precious close in sound and virtuosity to the orchestral flute, the present disc covering works written by English composers in the 20th century. Nicely contrasted, from the skittish humour of Philip Lane’s Suite Ancienne through to the more serious Concertino by Malcolm Arnold, my favourite tracks comes from Edward Gregson’s wash of French inspired colours in the Three Matisse Impressions, the strings and harp a perfect foil for the solo line. David Lyon’s three-movement Concertino is rather more pithily modern, before we move to the fun of Thomas Pitfield’s Three Nautical Sketches and Bullard’s musical food pictures in five Recipes for recorder and string orchestra. John Turner, one of the UK’s leading recorder players, has given over four hundred world premiers, and most of the works on this disc have been written for him. He is partnered by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia who provide admirable support. The disc, which dates back to 1999, was at one time available on Olympia, and is of very good sound quality.

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