(The) Art of the Recorder
Recorder virtuoso David Munrow, the trailblazer and pace-setter for original instruments in the LP era, looks astonishingly young in photographs included in the excellently documented booklet with this reissue. His famous Early Music Consort included such soon-to-be famous names as Simon Standage and Christopher Hogwood. He took his own life in 1976. Fortunately EMI recognised his scholarship, musical skill and infectious advocacy in various recordings, here restored for posterity.
The first disc of this two-disc set is a history of recorder music over eight centuries, full of delightful invention. Even the first, early-13th-century English Dance is catchy. But the recorder really came into its own in the Baroque era, as John Baston’s Concerto charmingly demonstrates. It also made its mark as an obbligato instrument, never more attractively than in Handel’s scoring of the spirited ‘O ruddier than the cherry’ or Bach’s serene ‘Sheep may safely graze’. Twentieth-century examples include a delectable Scherzo by Britten for recorder quartet, and a Trio by Hindemith that has a charm rarely found in his music.
The second disc features greatly varied items to demonstrate all manner of early instruments which Munrow relished, including many members of the trumpet family and even a playable cowhorn! A combination of medieval cornett, slide trumpet, shawn and tabor is a characteristic Munrow mélange. It’s all most entertaining, beautifully played and recorded.
The half a dozen concertante works on the very highly recommendable Dutton anthology show how Munrow’s legacy is a profusion of enjoyable music featuring the recorder, often piquant, and generous in melody too. Peter Hope’s Birthday Concerto featuring treble and descant recorders is witty, with a sultry ‘Intermezzo’ for bass recorder.
David Ellis’s Divertimento is scored for harp and marimba, creating spicy textures and ending with an elegiac ‘Chaconne’. The collection ends with a winsome little waltz for Mrs Harris (from a Paul Gallico novel), who has chosen a frothy dress from Dior and imagines herself dancing in it. The wistful little tune is quite delectable, like many of the melodic inspirations in this delightful collect- ion so persuasively played by John Turner, with the ensemble elegantly directed by Philip McKenzie. First class sound too.