Recorder Magazine: Summer 2013
English Recorder Works
Jill Kemp - Recorder; Aleksander Szrarn - Piano; Srodowski Quartet
Music & Media Consulting I MMC Recordings LTD MMC103
A new CD of English recorder music is something guaranteed to wrench my attention away from whatever I am doing and take note. The 2011 centenary of Carl Dolmetsch whose pioneering work brought the recorder from the museum to the recital hall has inspired several recorder players to revisit and record this repertoire.
Jill Kemp clearly has passion for this music. Her own interpretation is evident all the way through the disc which includes a great deal to enjoy, especially for Malcolm Arnold fans. Her pedigree is second to none. Of her teachers. Michala Petri championed and commissioned works by Arnold and Jacob, as well as many more; while Piers Adams 1993 recording 'Shine and Shade' was pioneering, pre-dating the publication of several now popular works. Kemp's recorder playing is a delightful fusion of their highly individual styles.
In the slower movements, her ability to iron out seamlessly what some may see as the recorder's imperfections through a flawless technique is reminiscent of the glass-like quality of Petri, while her bold tone and decisive attack pushing the recorder to its technical and expressive limits is perhaps reminiscent of Piers Adams's committed and bravura style.
The playing is technically brilliant throughout, and Kemp casts aside the trickier passages, such as those in the Berkeley Sonatina or Arnold Fantasia with panache. The few lapses in intonation are a jolting reminder that recorders, even the thorough-bred instruments employed by Kemp, offer little margin for error.
But this music is less concerned with technical wizardry than with musical expression - the contrast between introvert and extrovert, humour and pathos, modernity and nostalgia which makes them quintessentially English. The challenge and appeal for recorder players is conveying these contrasts with the (is it heretical to say) limited means of the recorder. Not that the recorder is a limited instrument in Kemp's hands. She offers some very persuasive accounts, a task which is becoming more difficult as this repertoire is more widely recorded. Her spirited playing seems particularly suited to the vivacious 'Rhumba' and 'Country Dance' in the Jacob, as well as the 'Rondo' from the Arnold Sonatina. Interestingly, Kemp plays almost entirely without vibrato (how fashions have changed since the works on this disc were written). This adds a calmness and serenity to the slow movements in the Berkeley and Jacob, and a barren quality to the bare textures of the Arnold Fantasy. Elsewhere, however, it left me craving the warmth and colour that a rich vibrato can add, such as the central, jazz-infused ‘Andante tranquilo’ of the York Bowen or indeed the wistful 'Solitaire’ by Arnold, originally intended to be whistled, surely with vibrato.
Neither is this music solely about the recorder: Bowens piano writing is typically romantic, whilst Berkeley's engages in intricate interplay with the recorder. Aleksander Szram shines through as a sensitive and engaging accompanist adding depth and considerable colour to the works. The Brodowsski Quartet gives vivid and committed performances throughout. The recorder here is first among equals in some chamber music making of the highest order.
The disc is completed by Dr. Andrew Mayes who, yet again, provides informative background notes which only skim the surface of his deep engagement with the Dolmetsch archives.
Recorded in 2011, this disc is certainty worth waiting for and a showcase for some of the 20th century's greatest recorder music.