American Recorder Concertos

As a veteran of the childhood recorder experience, the appearance of this album in my list produced some skepticism: my own involvement with the recorder was long ago, obligatory and not particularly memorable. Which probably heightened my delight listening to this delicious survey of works by American composers for recorder by Danish virtuoso Michala Petri.

Each of these highly individual works showcases the range and agility of the instrument’s family in unique ways. Anthony Newman’s Concerto for recorder, harpsichord and strings cleverly nods to the recorder’s traditional association in a quasi-Baroque setting but with distinctly contemporary tints. The other three works are in a more contemporary idiom but with their own distinct characters. Roberto Sierra’s atmospheric and zesty Prelude, Habanera & Perpetual Motion channels the pan flute vibe of Latin America. Steven Stucky’s ghostly Etudes showcases the instrument’s quicksilver flexibility, and Sean Hickey’s A Pacifying Weapon, contrasting the recorder against a complement of winds, brass, percussion and harp, is a tour de force with twistingly, fiendishly difficult heroics contrasted by meditatively ponderous reflective moments.

Definitely a rewarding listen.

Full disclosure: the composer featured on this album of solo piano works, Alex Shapiro, is one of my dearest friends, staunchest champions, and a paragon of elegance, courage, indefatigable energy, generosity, and sagacity. So I don’t claim for a minute that this recommendation is remotely unbiased.

Still I can’t imagine any fan of living new/concert music not being swept away by these widely ranging pieces ranging across two decades, more introspective than virtuosic. Their various impetuses are wide ranging, as Shapiro herself describes: “From a fiery, unexpectedly uplifting elegy, to a somber and despairing childhood flashback; From the bleakness of the Mexican desert, to the lilt of kelp strands along the San Juan Island shoreline; From homages to R. Schumann and L.V. Beethoven, to affirmations of the fragile power of healing herbs; From lyrical angularity, to frenzied comedy.”

The creation of this album involved a fascinating two-stage process. Pianist and Yamaha Artist Adam Marks first played the tracks into a 9′ Yamaha DCFX, which captured them as digital files. These were then edited and polished. The tracks were then recorded via the piano’s playback of those revised files in New York City’s American Academy of Arts and Letters, allowing the hall’s superb acoustics to add their richness to Marks’ superb renditions.

The suite from which the album derives its title is simultaneously lyrical, reflective and haunting, and all the tracks are captivating.

But I unashamedly claim a favorite amongst these: the opening work, “Spark”, a commission in honor of Dale Mara Bershad who succumbed to cancer in 2010. This luminous, soaring piece reflect’s Mara’s “remarkable inner light cast an indelible glow. Her essence remains radiant and present: a spark from a life filled with passion and delight, burning brightly, intensely, and without end.”