Rarities for Recorder (two CDs)

John Turner recorder
Stephen Bettaney piano
Laura Robinson recorder
Catherine Yates viola
Alex Mitchell

DIVINE ART   ddx 21245

John Turner is the doyen of British recorder players, having premièred some 600 works. He continues to engage in a variety of activities in including writing, reviewing, publishing and composing. This well-filled double CD contains music by many British composers, the exceptions being the Russian Stravinsky and Gretchaninov, and the American William Bergsma. 

The Berkeley Sonatina, Op 13 is probably more often encountered as a piece for flute, but suits the recorder admirably. Wilfred Heaton’s Little Suite was of interest since his is a name more usually associated with the brass band repertoire. Thomas Pitfield, Peter Hope and Dorothy Pilling are all reasonably familiar from their contributions in other genres. Less familiar names are Peter Pope, David Butler, David Ellis and David Jepson, but the quality of the various contributions is consistently high.

The recorder is an instrument which might be described as having something of a problem with its image, or at least it had. My own first encounter with the serious literature for the instrument was at a concert in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the mid-1970s in which John Turner was participating, and this fully opened my eyes to what the recorder could do.

One or two of the contemporary pieces employed unusual playing techniques, and everything was played with total conviction. The rediscovery of the baroque literature for recorder – such as the concertos by Babell, Telemann, Vivaldi, the sonatas by Handel, Sammartini, Marcello and others, have enhanced its standing enormously, as has the inclusion of the recorder in ensembles where previously (transverse) flutes would have been used.

This compendium of mostly British contributions to the literature amply demonstrates the versatility of which the recorder is capable. There is variety of mood, virtuosity, colour, and the inclusion of the Pastorale and Scherzo by Bergsma for respectively tenor and treble recorder with two violas is most welcome, as well as adding another facet to the display of expression of which the instrument is capable.

The tendency to regard it as something of a niche instrument is hardly fair when one regards the output of those composers who have taken the recorder seriously, both past and present. This is a collection of music is well worth investigating.

Review by Martyn Strachan