Solo Recorder Competition

Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition
London International Festival of Early Music
St. Margaret’s, Lee Terrace, Blackheath
Friday 12th November 2021

It has been 30 years since the biennial Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition (founded in 1985) linked with what is now the London International Festival of Early Music (LIFEM), a collaboration that incorporates the competition final and a recital by the winner at the following year’s festival. This year the venue was the fascinating church of St. Margaret’s, Lee, a simple early Victorian building in Early English style with spectacular interior decorations dating from the latter decades of the 19th-century. This church was a distinct improvement from the previous venue, as was the organisation of the event – an issue in previous competitions (see my review of the 2019 LIFEM here).

Four recorder players made it through to the final. More details of their careers to date can be found here. The first to appear was Daniel Scott, a British recorder and flute player based in Amsterdam where he has recently graduated from the Conservatorium. He opened with the meditative Pavan from Matthew Locke’s ‘Music for Several Friends’. His use of ornamentation on the repeats was very effective. The Almand and the rhythmically adventurous Courante followed.

Daniel was the first of two competitors who chose to play Isang Yun’s 1993 Der Affenspieler (The Actor with the Monkey), a lively solo piece that uses a range of performance techniques on the recorder. Pierre Boulez composed his 1985 Dialogue de l’ombre double for clarinet and a tape prepared by the performer to create a dialogue between the player and their shadow. This was one of several arrangements for other instruments. Although using traditional recorder techniques, the note-spinning is virtuosic and was very deftly negotiated by Daniel Scott. He finished with Telemann’s Sonata in C, a piece that highlights the performer’s ability to add ornaments and embellishment, something that Daniel achieved very successfully. He was accompanied by Jonathan Bougt, theorbo, and Harry Buckoke, gamba, with Emily Bannister assisting with the electronics.

Inés Pina Pérez is a Spanish recorder player, currently enrolled in a Master’s degree at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen. She centred her programme on two solo pieces from Isang Yun’s ‘Chinese Pictures’, The Actor with the Monkey heard earlier and the contrasting reflective Visitor to the Idyl, played on a bass recorder.

The first group of pieces came from the Renaissance and early Baroque periods with pieces by Matteis (the improvisatory Preludio in delasolre terza Maggiore), Fontana, Virgiliano and Rognini’s diminutions on Palestrina’s motet Pulchra es amica mea. The latter sounded particularly fine with the embellished recorder line blending beautifully with the organ motet. The second part of the programme moved into the later Baroque and early Classical era with a Sonata by Fasch introduced with a richly ornamented Prelude by Hotteterre. The difference in style was apparent in Inés Pina Pérez’s excellent use of contrasting articulation in the Allegro of the Fasch. I was also impressed with Inés’s care and confidence in taking time in setting everything up before her performance. She was accompanied by Gabriel Smallwood on the two harpsichords and organ. One presentational issue was that, for some of the pieces, she was blocking the audience’s view of the accompanist – not important aurally, but visually perhaps best to avoid.

The Swiss recorder and flute player Charlotte Schneider is active as a soloist and chamber musician in Switzerland and Europe. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Her programme started rather unusually with solo romantic guitar player Alice Letort entering the stage alone to start playing a distinctly Romantic-era piece (Adagio & Rondo brilliant, by Ernest Krãhmer). Charlotte Schneider joined her on stage just before we all decided we were in the wrong competition. It is unusual to hear Romantic recorder music, and even more unusual to hear the distinctive sound of the Csakan, or ‘walking-stick’ recorder, a popular instrument in Vienna in the early 19th-century. In Charlotte Schneider’s version, it was a very narrow-scaled recorder with some of the finger hole plumbing of a modern flute.

This was followed by Commentari III by Dorothée Hahne, a complex piece involving two recorders, headphones, a mobile phone and a wide range of techniques, including vocalising and a refrain for two recorders, the whole played with impressive aplomb by Charlotte Schneider. A segue from Alice Letort, this time playing theorbo, led to their own very effective diminutions and intabulation on Willeart’s madrigal Lagrime mesti. The concluding Vivaldi Sonata in G was accompanied by Irene González Roldán on harpsichord. The Largo was a typical bit of Vivaldi magic, interpreted sensitively by Charlotte Schneider.

Martin Bernstein is a recorder player based between New York and Paris. He was returning with a similar programme to his appearance at the 2019 competition. Under the title of Récit, he featured several recorder arrangements of 17th-century French organ music – a curious transformation that included a Plein Jeu and Dialogue, both pieces intended for a very full organ sound, and a Récit de Trompette (normally a lively and rather military piece) that took on a curiously melancholic air. Boyvin’s Récit de tierce en taille was played with the solo line in the treble rather than ‘en taille‘.

The rest of his programme included an arrangement for solo recorder of the melodic line of a Bach Partita (which included some rather over-powerful high notes), Markus Zahnausen’s Lux Aeterna with its unusual methods of recorder playing, which included whistling, an Italianate Sonata by Francoeur and a gentle concluding anonymous Sarabande. Martin Bernstein’s presentational style was rather less theatrical than in 2019, but was still a rather unusual approach for a competition final as opposed to a more intimate and informal recital. He was accompanied on the harpsichord and organ by Lucie Chabard.

The first prize winner receives £1500 plus a recital at the 2022 London International Festival of Early Music. The judges were Anna Stegmann, Emily White, and Jan van Hoecke. They placed the players as follows.

1st Charlotte Schneider
2nd Martin Bernstein
3rd Daniel Scott & Inés Pina Pérez