Flanders Recorder Quartet

Banchetto Musicale

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The title of this collection of recorder music refers only in part to Johann Hermann Schein's Banchetto Musicale of 1617, one suite of which opens the program. Beyond that, the disc is conceived as a "musical banquet," with Schein and Bach serving as a "German aperitif," two keyboard works of Tarquinio Merula offered as "Italian antipasti," Ralph Vaughan Williams' Suite for Pipes as an "English Sorbet," and two contemporary Dutch pieces as "Specialties of the House: Flemish Virtuoso," along with a couple of desserts. Mixed metaphors are a hazard of the road here, and the melodies of the Vaughan Williams are described as "served up on a bed of soft, sweet harmonies" -- an odd move for a sorbet. The concept was perhaps suggested by the presence of a recorder in the lush Dutch still life on the cover, but it doesn't really cover what happens in the program, which is divided into early music (both Renaissance and Baroque) and contemporary halves. The group reverts to Renaissance recorders for most of the contemporary pieces, which in a work like the Vaughan Williams is the proper light texture. In general, the variety of recorders used -- no fewer than 26 different instruments are heard -- is one of the disc's most attractive features; the recorders are matched to the music in such a way that whiny sounds are banished. The two recent Dutch pieces are entertaining, despite the unpromising description of Piet Swerts as a "traditional modernist." The middle "Theatre of the Absurd" movement of his Three Gadgets, written for the Flanders Recorder Quartet, is a sort of off-kilter carousel, effectively using the sound of recorders in a new context. Jan Van der Roost's I Continentti is an extended-technique extravaganza that evokes characteristic sounds from the various continents (except for Europe): the recorder makes an excellent didgeridoo and a pretty good Bolivian panpipe, but just a fair jazz flute. Several movements quote familiar tunes (like "El Condor Pasa") in the fashion of a motto. Elsewhere the Flanders Recorder Quartet is up to its usual tricks like playing Bach's organ music on the recorder (a procedure that has a certain amount of rather labored historical justification), even repeating an earlier remark to the effect that it can fault Bach only for having written so little for recorder. The most fun of all is the final Op de fles (On the Bottle) of Frans Geysen -- a little minimalist essay played by blowing across the tops of bottles that are dutifully identified by brand in the list of instruments. The Flanders Recorder Quartet invariably brings beauty and fun to recorder music, and this disc makes a reasonable place to begin with its output.

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