No there was no cake or champagne but I’m watching my weight and can’t drive home to Scarborough if I’ve been drinking.
Yet it was truly like a party, a celebration of our host Colin Eatock on the occasion of his 65th birthday, an occasion full of joy. And our ears were blessed by the generosity of what we were offered.
Colin was not only premiering “Two pieces for Tenor Recorder and Harpsichord (2021), but handing over the programming for the remainder of the concert to his soloists, Alison Melville recorder and Christopher Bagan harpsichord, which I can elaborate upon after addressing the main event, namely Colin’s new works, a pair of contrasting pieces.
In the first one, the recorder began with something rhapsodic, a lovely meditative melody that instigated everything to follow. The harpsichord functioned as a kind of accompaniment sketching in the harmonic landscape surrounding the plaintive wind-melody, as though explaining what was implicit in what Melville had played, a bit like a shrink or a priest explaining the mysteries of the recorder’s sounds. The recorder started with something that may have been notated as a mordent (the note going up and down, back to where it started) or written out (I am only guessing). Ornaments, meaning mordents, trills and more were a big part of the baroque, and may have been something Colin wanted to emulate in the piece, perhaps to invoke something of the period, even if the harmonies from the harpsichord (the timbre of the harpsichord offering another automatic pathway of association to the baroque) put me more in mind of someone like Debussy, Ravel or Poulenc.
The second piece is a contrasting composition, beginning with the harpsichord as provocateur, regular minor thirds in a pattern establishing a rhythm and urgency, while the recorder this time was responding or even debating rather than provoking. Where the first was subtly thoughtful, the second was more from the realm of a movie score, something dramatic and troubled. Where the first was to my mind sunny the second was stormy and with anguish underneath. They’re a nicely matched set, like yin and yang.
Of course music is a bit like a Rorschach test, so what I’ve written here may sound more like my pathology than a proper assessment of what Colin created. Yet it was absorbing to hear these two works from unexpected instruments, and employed cogently and economically without a surplus note.
Between Alison Melville, recorder and Christopher Bagan, harpsichord, we heard music from three different centuries. It all felt very new whether it was the 1700s, 1900s or from our own time, complete with some fascinating introductions explaining something about the way the instruments were being employed by the music, a wonderfully diverse assortment of sound from two instruments that you wouldn’t think of as the vehicles for anything modernist or edgy.
Framing Colin’s pieces, Bagan and Melville had their solo moments.
To start Bagan gave us Louis Andriessen’s Overture to Orpheus, speaking first of the idea of “following”, one hand quickly echoing the other on different manuals to create some remarkable acoustic effects. Euridice may have walked behind Orpheus in like manner, or so it seemed in this meditative work from the 1960s. I never knew a harpsichord could sound so modern.
Following Colin’s pieces, Melville offered Telemann’s Fantasia No. 9 seguing directly into Staeps’ “Allegro deciso”, suggesting that perhaps Telemann’s ideas weren’t so old considering how fresh he sounded, particularly alongside Staeps.
The remainder of the program featured two impressive works. Hans Poser’s Seven Bagatelles showed signs of Hindemith’s influence, works I wish I could hear again to enjoy their wacky humour and stunning brevity. JS Bach’s trio sonata #1 BWV 525, transcribed for recorder & harpsichord contained perhaps as many notes as everything else in the concert combined, a stunning display from Melville and Bagan to close the concert.
I was also thrilled to be able to get my hands on a copy of Colin’s Glenn Gould book, which I’d looked for in vain online. Thank you Colin and Happy Birthday!