Early Ripening

Review by Don Goodsell.

Two consecutive recorder events took place in Kent back in April, unrelated but for one vital link – recorder virtuoso John Turner, a presence to awaken many a composer’s muse. The first was staged by Sittingbourne’s forward-looking Music Society – rescued from the doldrums not so long ago by composer John McCabe and his wife Monica, encouraged by music-loving Kent councillor Peter Morgan, and violin teacher Miles Attwell.

North Kent’s fertile soil produces far more than apples and cherries. New music blossoms as vigorously as any fruit of the orchard, but this particular Friday evening brought a cornucopia of music to those who had driven out to Tunstall’s medieval church on the gentle slopes of Kent’s North Downs. With its challenging menu of music for soprano and recorder this was far from your typical bottoms-on-seats fare. Any programme presented by as stunning a voice and stage presence as Lesley-Jane Rogers, aided by John Turner with his armoury of recorders, is not likely to be forgotten – particularly if the ‘stage’ at one juncture (the Five Songs of Crazy Jane by Peter Aston) was the pulpit of this ancient church.

However Dowland, Sweenlinck, Morley, and ever-versatile Anon provided a familiar horizon against which to set music by John Joubert (The Rose is Shaken in the Wind) and David Matthews (his song cycle Happiness, also for high-voice and recorder), both from early in the present century. The remaining works were still, so to speak, ‘warm-from-the-press’, though Winter Fruits for solo recorder, by Bridget Fry, (noted for her Z-Cars theme) had been performed before. However, her Robert Bridges setting, Nightingales for soprano and recorder, was here for its world première, as was the substantial Tres Lusciniae by Kent composer Peter Aviss, which takes its cue from the medieval Latin poet similarly moved to verse by the nightingale (luscinia). Aviss uses English translations to the three poems by Helen Waddell. Not only the spiritual content but also the metric and tonal complexities make this a challenging work for all but the most adventurous performers, though the result is truly memorable.

Peter Aviss appeared in different guise on the following evening, this time as conductor of Oare String Orchestra. So also –you may have guessed – did John Turner. This was a quite different set-up. Exchange a medieval village church for a modern concert hall in the centre of busy Dickensian Faversham and a duo of performers for a 25-strong string orchestra and you have the scene for a concert that sandwiched three 21 st century recorder works within a staple diet of two string classics from the 20 th and one from the 19 th centuries.

Of the contemporary works just one received its first performance – the Geordie Tunes of Peter Hope. Though no youngster himself, these delightful vistas of a Northumbrian past show the composer at his most buoyantly youthful, and are within the scope of any competent band of strings. Of the tunes Bobby Shaftoe will be known in most English-speaking lands. The others are probably more regional, though familiar to any north-country folk music buff who would willingly suggest a goodly number of other tunes fit for setting.

Hope’s deeper and more extended Concerto for Recorder, Strings and Percussion was actually written as a birthday tribute to John Turner and was recorded in 2005 by John Turner with the Camerata Ensemble on the Epoch/Dutton label. It is a work that deserves a place in the repertoire of any string orchestra and, I might add, of any well-practiced recorder player possessing a full set from sopranino to bass.

The final work in the recorder trio of the Faversham concert, the Fantasia Concertante of Peter Aviss, has already been reviewed in an earlier issue of The Recorder Magazine, when dedicatee John Turner gave its first performance.

Thus two eventful evenings in the Kent borough of Swale saw the launching of two significant new works for the recorder player’s vibrantly growing repertoire as well as the harvesting of a goodly number of new and established fruits of the genre.

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