17 November 2012

Of lair and laird

The U3A Recorder Orchestra comprises eight ranges of recorders but on this day they played seven: sopranino was not required. Recorders don’t have a strong sound. Wikipedia describes them as “remarkably clear and sweet, partly because of the lack of upper harmonics and predominance of odd harmonics” (Recorder, in Wikipedia, viewed 16 Nov 2012).
When they all played together in harmony, with a string of basses down to the strangely squared contrabass, they surprised me with a likeness to a pipe organ. But then, they form notes in much the same way. This orchestra is not professional, with players having lifelong or little experience, so the tone was occasionally strident and intonation was sometimes sacrificed to reading the dots, but they performed a lovely range of musics. These are mediaeval and renaissance instruments, so I wasn’t surprised by a string of 6 Renaissance dances by various composers. I was surprised by the suggestion of an active international recorder family, but I shouldn’t have been. The dancers were arranged by an Englishman; a later Irish suite was composed by Steve Marshall from the UK; this very orchestra had a fantasy written for them by another Brit, Steve Marshall. Otherwise, the music moved from older to newer. From the Renaissance through Palestrina, Mascagni, the original tune and the contemporary Irish Suite, to Berlioz’ magisterial Serenade for the Holy Family. They presented the Berlioz as their Christmas offering - the performance is in St Alban’s Anglican Church, after all. I enjoyed some of the later works, with more syncopation and orchestral pads and instrumental interplays and more expansive concepts, but I think I preferred the simplicity of the early music for these instruments. They sound strangely distant - think Robin Hood but not Errol Flynn - pure and simple, humble when playing Berlioz and contemporary and in the context of the overwhelming power of modern instruments, but proud in their own context of taverns and debauchery or halls and dignity and stateliness. That’s their place and they sound great there. One more of the universe of sounds that is music as we know it now. Margaret Wright conducted the U3A (University of the Third Age) Recorder Orchestra’s Chamber Ensemble at St Albans.

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