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Recorders at Greenwich International Festival of Early Music November 2005 including Moeck/SRP Recorder Playing Competition
[first published in Early Music Review December 2005]


Recorders dominated my attention amongst the numerous competing attractions, many of them simultaneous, at this year's Greenwich Early Music Festival .


The Moeck/Society of Recorder Players Solo Recorder Playing Competition looked daunting on paper; four 40-min recitals in the Peacock Room, only the first of them not unaccompanied. Insufficient time to snatch lunch in the ten-minutes gaps, and long queues for the single loo!


Selection of the finalists (normally three, but four this year because standards were reckoned so high and close) was by submission of a promo CD, choice of music free but for a compulsory set modern item. The programmes were contrasted and carefully designed for maximum variety and for extension of the instrument's repertoire, so that in actuality there was no risk of audience fatigue.


No British applicants were short listed for Greenwich. One oddity was that three of the other finalists, including the Spanish born winner María Martínez Ayerza, are pupils of the chairman of the jury, Paul Leenhouts; they know each other well in the renowned Amsterdam recorder world. Probably no harm done, but should not Leenhouts have considered stepping down when he became aware of that situation?


There was however universal satisfaction when Maria, now doing advanced studies in Amsterdam, was declared the winner. Her Moeck first prize included a recital next November at the Greenwich Festival 2006. For a dazzling account of a piece by the contemporary Japanese composer Itoh, María took also the SRP Walter Bergmann prize; a reminder to me of the teacher who took my first recorder classes in the '50s.

Astrid Knöchlein gave a pleasing recital with some of her items accompanied by baroque guitar and harpsichord. In Giorgio Tedde's Austro she gave an impressive demonstration of circular breathing. Astrid had a little technical problem which needs attention; the ends of her last notes were not as precisely considered and achieved as should be. Stephanie Brandt brought absorption and intensity to a programme from medieval to experimental, fielding a strange sub-bass Partzold recorder which she put through its paces. One of Isang Yun's Chinese Pictures inflicted painful difference tones (unavoidable in the Peacock Room) and she gave an impressive account of Berio's innovative Gesti , which should really be numbered as one of the Sequenzas. I look forward to hearing her again and would have been content had she been awarded the palm.


The technical authority of Netherlands virtuoso Erik Bosgraaf gained praise from recorder students listening, and the award of 2nd prize for his unlikely arrangements for recorder - including a Telemann flute fantasy, Bach's 1st cello suite (how do you take a breath in the semiquaver runs?) and a Stravinsky clarinet étude .

[Arrangements are now so much in favour that perhaps it is time that my own arrangement for treble recorder of Mozart's sonata K 570, which I made in the 1950s to fill a perceived gap, should see the light? * It is featured in the collected piano sonatas but also to be found amongst the violin sonatas, with the violin part added by an unknown hand - so no sacrilege, I felt, in those long ago days before arrangements of the classics became big business. Enquiries welcomed.]


The Flautadors (Ian Wilson, Celia Ireland, Catherine Fleming, Fiona Russell, recorders) were more impressive live in the ORNC Chapel than on their Rubbra/Britten CD. Bach's double violin concerto was dazzling and sounded entirely self-sufficient on a quartet of recorders! Contemporary development of the instrument was illustrated in two innovative ensemble pieces composed for them by David Murphy and Leo Chadburn, the latter's a tour de force for some ten instruments of different sizes, two in a mouth simultaneously most of the time! Another CD waiting to be made.


A last word about three of the Exhibitor Demonstrations in the intimate, panelled Admiral's House; music was to be heard throughout the weekend all over the campus, and too in St Alphege's Church nearby - a trade fair and much besides. Frank James showed how well Field and Beethoven sounded on fortepiano and square piano in his breathless half-hour allotted; Ibi Aziz (the first Early Music winner of Trinity College's Gold Medal) with Sarah Cunningham and Jenny Bullock played early French music on a trio of Jane Julier's bass viols, and Tim Cranmore and a colleague illustrated their roles as recorder player/maker and baroque flute maker/player respectively.


Peter Grahame Woolf


* This has been accepted for future publication by Recorder Music Mail Sheet Music Stockists & Publishers


Photos: María Martínez Ayerza & Paul Leenhouts

© Peter Grahame Woolf