Ronald Moelker - Heaven -

02 February 2012
John Miller
5 Stars

I confess to some trepidation on seeing the programme for this disc. It presents little-known pieces from medieval times to Lennon & McCartney, played on various recorders by Ronald Moelker. This Dutch musician evidently has wide musical tastes, but specialises on the recorder, of which he has a unique collection of period replicas specially made for him. This is something of a family affair too, his daughter Merel sings 'Yesterday' and son Bo plays congas and acts as assistant producer. Several other friends play instruments such as Tibetan bowls and string bass. Although this programme would make an interesting live concert, I wondered if on disc it would deserve repeated listening.

The best way to explain the programme is to present a track-list with my brief annotations.
1. Lamento di Tristan (anon) C14th. The ancient love story of Tristan and Isolde has long inspired music, and Moelker plays this beautiful minstrel lament as a haunting solo on a tenor recorder.
2. Salterella anon (C14th). A bright and cheeky dance on a brightly-toned treble recorder.
3. Ricercarta, Aurelio Virgiliano (late C16th). A wistful theme subjected to an ingenious set of variations with increasing technical difficulty.
4. Wat zal menop den avond doen (1649) Jacob van Eyck. A simple child-like song, "What shall we do tonight?" is given a dazzling and inventive set of variations.
5-8. Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande & Bourree Anglaise from JS Bach's Partita for flute BWV 1013 in a minor (1717). Wonderfully nuanced and tuneful dances played on a Baroque treble which has a remarkably flute-like tone.
9. 'á la Menuetto' from Sonata Brilliante (1811) by Anton Heberle - on a 'Dream' descant recorder; capricious and witty; a piece well-known by recorder students.
10-11. Fantasy III in d minor (1732) by Telemann; lightly-spun and engaging Baroque dances on a period F treble recorder.
12. Study no. 4 (1957) by the indefatigable recorder player Frans Brüggen - a solo which evoked a joyfully soaring bird for me; technically challenging but immaculately played.
13. 'Tibet' (2004) by Moelke himself. Above the subtle resonance of Tibetan bowls and soft gongs, a Renaissance consort tenor recorder soars aloft to depict the mountain fastnesses; very evocative and engendering feelings of peace and tranquillity.
14. 'Talud' Moelke (2004). In the absence of any comment from the disc notes, my explanation of this title may be wrong, but the Dutch word "talud" refers to the outer slope of a dyke. The seaward face of dykes in the Netherlands are of course key to the containment of the North Sea. This piece opens with a remarkable sound like driving wind and rain (from an ocean drum), punctuated by church bell-like tones from the Tibetan bowls (both played by Moelke himself); the recorder enters with a call to prayer, then takes off into an extraordinary solo, with some astonishing sound effects from fluttering and over-blowing, which are faithfully rendered by the DSD recording. This is the longest piece on the disc, getting quite wild, stormy and funky towards the end. It clearly demonstrates Moelke's imaginative mastery over his instrument.
15. 'Summertime' George Gershwin (1934-35) - a swing dialogue between a string bass and Moelke's improvisatory recorder, introduced by a string bass solo.
16. 'Yesterday' Lennon & McCartney (1965) - a crossover track in bluesy mode, nicely sung by daughter Merel and commentated by the recorder, with string bass accompaniment
17. 'Heaven' (2006) Moelker. Another composition from the composer-recorder player; upbeat with synth, bass and congas - rather bland to my taste but with Latin and New Age flavours.

By the end of the disc, I was won over. Moelke is a consummate musician, sensitive to context, creative in interpretation and composition and above all a wonderful communicator. His playing draws the listener in and holds the attention, from the simplest of melody lines to the most complex technical feats. Aliud's recording captures every nuance and timbre of the instrumentarium on this disc, making it a gripping sonic experience too.

I'm still not sure that general listeners would regard the disc as worth buying unless they are particularly adventurous - when they will reap rewards. Recorder fans, however, will love this disc; Moelke explicitly set out to prove what a versatile instrument it is, capable of music-making far beyond the childhood classroom. He succeeds.
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