Friday, March 17, 2006

Virtuoso. Recorder.

I wrote that I would be avoiding recordings this year, but while driving and searching for the traffic report, I happened onto some samples from a recording by the Swiss recorder player Maurice Steger and was staggered. It was gutsy, animated, sometimes even over-the-top playing; it was detail-rich and those details were always musical. The repertoire is two concertos and an overture by Telemann, a composer whose music is too often played simply for its abundant charm. These performances chucked the charm and went for genuine shock and awe (we know all about fake shock and awe nowadays; this is the real thing). While the sound design of the recording may have enhanced this impression, Steger's playing with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin achieved a dynamism that forces me, at least, to totally reasess what the recorder can and might be able to do. Long before its forced enlistment into school and summer camp service, the recorder was one of the first instruments to be associated with a large body of notated music at a virtuoso level. While occulted a bit in the 19th century, a huge repertoire was composed for the instrument in the 20th century, and (IMO) the most successful were among works associated with Frans Brüggen, the trio Sour Cream, or the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet. There is an amazing number of good recorder players out there today, and composers should take advantage of this. But I'll go out on a limb and say that Steger's playing suggests a substantially different take on the character of the instrument, and potentially, a new point of orientation for composing some sophisticated music.

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