Recordings
2:09 pm
Sat February 1, 2014

Recordings & Recorders

2013 proved to be a difficult year for me because several of my friends passed away, in England and here in the state of Jefferson. Among those I lost in this area are two men who made significant contributions to music: Jim Rich, who led the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra (JBO), and JPR’s own Brad Ranger. I did not feel I was able to get to know either of them as well as I would have wished, and, reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine once again, I was reminded of what valuable resources of history and culture we lose each time someone close to us passes on and their voices are no longer heard.

The deaths of those you know inevitably turns your thoughts to your own mortality and your own life. I have been thinking about music played at funerals, and I believe the first time I was aware of songs at these ceremonies was at the funeral service for Princess Diana back in 1997, which included not only music by Sir John Tavener (who also died in 2013), but also a re-working of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”

My own list of parting songs seems to vary from week to week, but would almost certainly include “Thank you for the Days” sung by Kirsty MacColl, Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” Purcell “Dido’s Lament: When I am laid in earth,” sung by Alison Moyet from her 2004 album Voice and the beautiful unaccompanied version of “In My Life” by June Tabor on the 2012 album Rubber Folk. I hope that Brad might approve of some of these choices.

It would be hard also not to include “Going Back” either sung by Dusty Springfield or in the version by Freddy Mercury when he was still Larry Lurex. Hearing that song takes me back to my own childhood, although, sadly, I cannot go back to the place I loved “so well in my youth,” because it no longer exists. My hometown in England was renamed in 1967 and moved to a different county a few years later as part of some boundary changes.

However, among the things “I learned so well” in my childhood in that now-long-gone place was my first musical instrument: that much undervalued instrument which almost gives its name to this column — the recorder. We probably still tend to associate the recorder with childhood: there is a poster in the YMCA in Ashland showing a little girl playing a recorder, which sits alongside other posters extolling the virtues of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, this, one of the most ancient of musical instruments, is actually very difficult to play well. I can attest to that, having played it, not at all well, with the JBO last year.

When we hear the recorder on JPR it is often being played early in the morning or at the end of a program, and the recordings are often relatively short pieces of Renaissance and Baroque music, such as Handel’s Recorder sonata, Telemann’s Recorder quartet or the concerti of Heinichen and Vivaldi. In fact, early music for the recorder was often not signaled as being for this instrument at all, since it was frequently known as the flute, whilst the instrument we know by that name was referred to as the transverse flute: nowadays, all flutes are transverse instruments.

Carl Dolmetsch wrote in 1939 of his recitals in Wigmore Hall:

“One of my aims will be to demonstrate the possibilities of the recorder as a virtuoso instrument on a par with the already accepted violin, flute or pianoforte, and to present masterpieces of music which form part of
its literature.”

It was in large measure because of Dolmetsch that the recorder became so popular in the twentieth century, and there are many contemporary composers who continue to value the recorder and to write for the instrument. Several of these composers are featured on the 1995 album Moonchild’s Dream: Recorder Concertos by Michala Petri and the English Chamber Orchestra. This RCA album (ASIN: B000003FOV) includes a concerto by Sir Malcom Arnold as well as the lyrical Concerto for Recorder and Orchestra (“Moonchild’s Dream”) by Thomas Koppel (b. 1944). I recommend this recording to all who have ever played this undervalued instrument. May it take you back to the things you “learned so well” in your youth.

Geoff Ridden is the occasional host of First Concert and Siskiyou Music Hall, heard on JPR’s Classics & News Service and online at www.ijpr.org