Michala Petri, recorder
Danish National Symphony Orchestra / DR
Lan Shui, conductor
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 Amargí³s’ Northern Concerto. Amargí³s’ 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 Bōrtz’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. Bōrtz 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.