My first review for 1996 is a rave. Michala Petri commissioned all five of these concertante works, and she firmly plants her flag on new territory with these recordings. Fellow Dane Vagn Holmboe wrote his concerto for Petri in 1974, when she was still in her teens, Arnold's concerto was completed in 1988, and the remaining three works were written in the current decade. Everyone who deplores the state of contemporary classical composition needs to hear this disc - he or she will be in for a change of heart.
"Heart" is something that this music has in abundance; there's nothing cold or scientific about it. This is due, in part, to the qualities of Miss Petri's instrument itself: it twitters and chirps like a sparrow that is hoarding a kernel of sadness within its breast. A sparrow is robust enough to ride the strongest breezes, yet fragile enough to crush in one human hand, and that paradox is what makes Petri's playing as attractive as the sparrow's flight. Thomas Koppel's Moonchild's Dream continues that paradox. The composer imagined a waif-like girl in the slums of Copenhagen being turned, at least for a night, into a fairy princess through her imagination. The music captures both the harshness of her reality and the magic and fantasy of her transcendence. A friend of mine supplied a Dickensian image: butterflies fluttering over and lighting on the bodies of dead soldiers.
The other works on this disc are less rhapsodic but no less enjoyable. The cool colors of the celesta and the vibraphone take Holmboe's concerto into a similarly nocturnal world, albeit one with more exotic or even tropical tints. Holmboe is regarded as one of this century's most excellent symphonists - his Seventh Symphony is a gem - and this sixteen-minute concerto is equally worthwhile. Gary Kulesha's concerto also traffics in exotica; here, the inspiration was the Japanese shakuhachi flute and the idiosyncratic performance techniques which it requires. Both Kulesha's and Holmboe's concertos ask Petri to sing one melody into her instrument as her fingers play another one - quite a feat, I imagine, and a beautiful effect. Asger Lund Christiansen's Dance Suite is a charming collection of miniatures - courtly thoughts inhabiting comptemporary bodies - and any concerto by Malcolm Arnold comes with a guarantee that it will be winsome and witty and not one note longer than it needs to be. The closing Vivace seems to ask the musical question, "What if Vivaldi had written an Irish jig?" Diverting stuff.
Petri's performances are definitive, and Okko Kamu, an under-rated conductor, leads the English Chamber Orchestra in colorfaccompaniments. Sound quality is fine and has the flavor of the studio rather than that of the concert hall. Don't let bad memories of playing the recorder in elementary school keep you away from this disc - it's a beauty.
Copyright © 1996, Raymond Tuttle