ICHARD HARVEY's Concerto Incantanto was written for Michala Petri and commissioned by Leanne Nicholls for the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong's tenth anniversary concert.
The work draws on both aspects of Harvey's musical life, as a recorder player and as a com-poser of movie and television music. The declared aim was to write something challenging, energetic and fun, while exploring the different characters of the full set of recorders, from sopranino to tenor. Searching for a light touch to balance the flauto dolce, the composer chose to use a small orchestra, combining muted and pizzicato strings, flutes and clarinets with harp, celesta and percussion. Petri's dazzling playing and astonishing technique meant that Harvey was free to create without limits, and that every idea could be followed through.
Composed in five sections, the work opens with Sortilegio (Sorcery), a buoyant, dancing
movement in compound time. The solo sopranino recorder gently emerges out of the texture after a short and tentative orchestral introduction, and later gives way to solo passages for both soprano and treble recorders. The whole movement is saturated with sparkling, shimme-ring filmic effects and moments of delicate interplay between the recorder and a solo cello or violin. Sortilegio gradually dims down to a hushed pianissimo in preparation for Natura Morta (Still Life).
The wistful, almost human, tones of the tenor recorder lead us through this hauntingly atavistic reverie. Expressive styles and techniques characteristic of other end-blown flutes, like the Chinese xiao and the native North American flute, are employed throughout the movement to great effect. The mood is calm and melancholic, until we are sharply reawoken by Danza
Spiriti (Dance of the Spirits).
Sopranino and soprano recorders breathe life into this short and vibrant scherzo. The movement conjures up images of inanimate objects or wispy sprites, flying around with a life of their own, sometimes nearly colliding and at other times treating us to a delightfully choreographed aerial bal-let. The movement ends abruptly as if the last sprite is flying through the door just as it is about to slam shut! Composure returns in the more contemplative Canzone Sacra (Sacred Song) to follow.
The warm tones of the treble recorder are a special feature here. The movement opens with a quasi-improvisatory recitative, before settling into a stately hymn-like tune, known as theEnglish Theme. The orchestra, playing at a bare whisper, allows the soloist to intone these
themes in the lowest register of the instrument, a sound both sweet and poignantly pianissimo. A musical box-like melody marked by odd, bittersweet dissonances makes for a curious
conclusion and sets the scene for the final Incantesimi (The Spells).
Unaccompanied, the solo soprano recorder engages in a series of minimalist arpeggiated passages which occasionally explode into double time, before settling into a quirky renaissance-style dance with multiple time signatures. As the orchestra enters, the dance builds in intensity, before freeing the soloist for several pyrotechnic flights of fancy, using double-tongued articulation at very high speeds. A short cadenza ensues, only to be rudely interrupted by the orchestra, which swirls around the recorder like a tornado. The soloist enters again, this time with a humble rendition of the previously heard English Theme. Thereafter, with the more brilliant sopranino recorder to hand, the soloist races the orchestra to the end, bringing the work to a dramatic, whirling conclusion.
© Joshua Cheek and Ian Shircore