CD Reviews

British Recorder Concertos: works by Peter Hope, David Beck, Hans Gal, David Ellis, Ian Parrott and David Dubery
John Turner – recorder; Richard Howarth – leader and solo violin; Eira Lynn Jones ­ harp; Janet Fulton – percussion; conducted by Philip McKenzie
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7154 (T.T.79:51)

The genre of the recorder concerto has, since it’s re-establishment in the twentieth century, resulted in a wealth of highly creative music of almost endless variety and form. This very welcome disc of concerted works for recorder, that all inhabit a mainly mainstream musical idiom, demonstrates this most emphatically.

Peter Hope’s Concerto for the recorder, strings, harp and percussion (“Birthday Concerto”) was composed in 2003 for John Turner’s 60th birthday and makes use of bass to sopranino instruments. Early in his musical career Hope worked with master of light music, Ernest Tomlinson and this is perhaps evident in the underlying lyricism of this brilliantly scored and immediately attractive work. It also contains some innovative effects: rapidly repeated notes on the recorder in combination with similar figuration on xylophone add sparkle in the first movement (and indeed the last). The middle movement (Intermezzo) opens with a languid melody for bass recorder over a gentle accompaniment for harp and strings. A contrasting and impassioned melody for the strings forms a central interlude above which the sopranino weaves a web of birdsong, before a recapitulation of the bass recorder melody brings this beautiful movement to a close. The finale (Tarantella) brims with repeated note energy (somewhat similar in feel to the Ostinato I Hope’s Bramall Hall dances, but in triple rather than duple time). The momentum is further propelled by conga drums (shades of Sir Malcolm Arnold) and clattering xylophone the closing bars are sheer bravura.

The Recorder Magazine Autumn 2005

Audio Review – Neapolitan Songs
By Steve Ettinger
The most beautiful song recital – ever!!
Phillips 400 015-2

Now fans, some of you probably don’t have this magnificent album, it’s been out of print for a while, but I urge you to still try to get it. I waited for some years before a friend told me about an UK web site that had just a couple of copies left. But was it worth the wait!

I love the Neapolitan Songs, and I heard many of them before, largely thanks to old Gigli and Lanza recordings, and later to the 3-T concerts. But what I’ve heard on this CD far surpassed everything I’ve heard before, even Pavarotti’s wonderful Passione album. For this recital, Jose Carreras selected the most melodious, romantic and exciting Neapolitan songs, and with Peter Hope’s brilliant arrangements and Edoardo Muller’s sensitive engaging conducting they became refreshingly different from other versions so often heard and overused. Jose’s voice definitely deserves the highest praise. It’s absolutely glorious, at its full bloom, note after note of pure joy.

Two reviews of “Peter Hope: Songs and Chamber Music:”
Dutton CDLX 7192

From International Record Review: November 2007.

Peter Hope is now 77. He has been a prolific composer and arranger since his youth, whose reputation as a master of the lighter side has long been secure, and in that narrow corner of the musical spectrum his sheer versatility and lengthy career have made him something of a household name. However, the near simultaneous arrival of the millennium and of his seventieth birthday seems to have triggered a change in his outlook. Without in anyway turning his back on previous triumphs, Hope began producing a body of work in more serious vein. Immediately on writing those words I realise that I am possibly traducing him in at least two ways: first, concert music has never been off his agenda; and second that little word ‘serious’ really does prejudice proper discussion of his music. On the evidence of the five delightful pieces recorded on this most welcome release, from a source (Dutton) which must increasingly be regarded as essential in the search for lost gems of British music, the composer plumbs his own particular vein of inspiration: the brow is seldom furrowed for long, the music is often fresh, energetic, spontaneous accessible. It is beautifully varied and immensely well crafted and never feels commercial: it is not light music, and for me avoids any sense of easy pastiche or pastoralism.
All five works date from after 2000, the most recent, a Serenade for String Trio in five short movements, from his seventy – fifth birthday year. It starts with a bustling march, and there follow four further pieces, all with character- titles such as scherzetto or waltz: but (and this is what I admire most) each is much more than that. The tango is distinctly dark-hued, the waltz is bittersweet, the rondo lopes along in five-four time.

Then, recorder, cello and harpsichord may be more suggestive of the Baroque than of today, but the ‘Bramall Hall Dances’ for this combination offers more than first appearances would suggest: the frenetic ostinato movement at it’s centre is truly exhilarating. Baroque ensembles seeking a modern counterweight for their repertoire could do worse than look at these neat pieces. The same combination plus countertenor voice is used for five short settings of the seventeenth-century poet Robert ‘Gather ye rosebuds) Herrick: these are maybe slightly less convincingly differentiated, and James Bowman’s timbre is more threadbare than it once was—irritatingly the texts are not in the booklet (though there are five pages of performer biographies)
The 15- minute ‘Divertimento’ for guitar and string trio may look like an occasional piece for a combination seldom encountered, but it’s three movements are greatly rewarding, with nice touches such as the substantial cello solo in the Andante. It is much more than an occasional work.
There are terse notes by the composer himself on all the works here, and overall the disk offers the chance of a gratifying encounter with someone who is clearly a very thoughtful musician indeed.

Piers Burton – Page
Piers Burton-Page joined the BBC in 1971, beginning a career of over 30 years working mostly for BBC Radio 3. These days he continues as a freelance producer, as well as with occasional presentation work and a growing career as a speaker on music. His particular interests are opera and British music of the past 100 years, and in 1994 he published Philharmonic Concerto, the authorized biography of Sir Malcolm Arnold. He is currently working on a book provisionally called Unfinished Symphonies.

American Record Guide May/June 2008

….. Everything here resonates the song, the lyric – the delightfully phrased melody. Hope’s “Serenade” is for string trio in five movements that are really dances. Nothig here sounds particularly British or derived from British folk melodies such as Arnolds wonderful dances on Chandos 85671; they just canter along.
Perhaps the true surprise here is “Bramall Hall Dances” for recorder, harpsichord and cello(2001). These are unabashed dances driven by a capering recorder with a dainty (but not baroque) harpsichord in the background. The cello here is for depth, but is sometimes more recessed than I think was intended. That fact does not detract from the pleasure of this piece (which in 1 threatens to launch into a pop cadence that reveals just how much Hope knows the music of the 20th century – all of it.)
Four Sketches is for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano (2002): the lyricism is carried by the oboe and bassoon (one playing off the other). This work is a bit more melancholy and truly romantic (in every good sense of that word).
The most unusual work here is “A Herrick Garland” for countertenor, recorder, harpsichord and cello(2003) based on poems by Robert Herrick. The piece was written for (and is here sung by) James Bowman but despite the poetry, the harpsichord, the recorder and the countertenor, nothing here sounds even remotely like Renaissance or Elizabethan music. I cannot judge the skill or artistry of Bowman’s singing.

The musical culture that used countertenors is foreign to me – my tastes being much more in this century and the last. But I will say that I enjoyed the piece. I did miss having the poems in the booklet to follow. Mr. Bowman’s enunciation isn’t that clear. This work and the Bramall Hall Dances are very contemporary, despite the use of recorders and harpsichords.
The final work here is the Divertimento for guitar and string trio(2001):like every other work here , it is infused with dance rhythms and rising and falling falling lyrical moods and shows off Hope’s ability to choose melody over virtuosity, song over statement. As usual with Dutton Laboratories, this is a gorgeous recording (except for the slightly recessed cello in “Bramall Hall Dances). I am glad to get to know the music.

Peter Hope Music