Dai Fujikura – Recorder Concerto

by 5:4

A general shift in register now, from low to high, and to a pair of concertos using a reduced orchestra comprising just strings. Dai Fujikura seems to have written his Recorder Concerto despite himself, describing his initial view of the instrument as a pretty negative one. What makes the piece so interesting, i think, is the way Fujikura seems to have overcome that rather awkward starting position. It’s a little hard to articulate, but one’s attention is drawn not so much to the material he has composed for the instrument but to the instrument itself and the way it is behaving. In other words, it feels more a concerto about the recorder than what the recorder is playing. Sort of.

In terms of what actually happens, the setup is pretty simple, with the soloist taking the lead, their articulations serving as a model for the strings. Fujikura makes that very clear at the outset, low flutterings on the recorder translating into tremolandi in the strings; the recorder progresses to a melody made up of fragmented moments, and the strings’ material is equally fractured. Fujikura allows this kind of thing to play out at various points throughout the piece for minutes at a time, enabling two things to happen. The first we might slightly generously call development, more in a textural/gestural sense than with respect to specific and clear melodic or rhythmic elements. The second is the opportunity to introduce dramatic moments of change, when established patterns of behaviour are abruptly challenged or revoked. A hugely building string crescendo early in the piece is the first, reinforced further by emphasis on the (hitherto underused) bass. Another, much later on, finds everything swept aside in a fiery, heavyweight motif of accented repeated notes that dominates and recurs for a while. Both of these aren’t just a total contrast to what went before, but also to the relationship between the recorder and the strings, with the latter firmly demonstrating their autonomy. Another source of dramatic shift are in the soloist’s switches to different recorders, from tenor to sopranino to basset. Fujikura’s use of the sopranino is the most memorable of the three, launching into florid, birdsong-like passagework, its melody full of fluttering (a really lovely effect at this altitude); with the basset, the music becomes mellow but loses (or dispenses with) any sense of a firm footing, dissolving with the strings into a nervous network of endless tremolos and tappings.

Composed in 2010, this performance took place at that year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, by Jeremias Schwarzer with Ensemble Resonanz, conducted by Peter Rundel.

Programme Note

My starting point for this concerto was to research and explore the recorder’s unique attributes. I found that the articulation of the players can be directly magnified by the recorder, so I thought I should make a piece in which the string orchestra functions as an amplification of the articulations which come from the recorder. In other words, everything in this work originates from the mouth of the soloist.

I also had an image that the recorder player is playing somewhere in the desert and a simoom starts and blows the sands around him, sometimes entangling the recorder, sometimes leaving it, sometimes returning.

—Dai Fujikura

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Daniel Childers

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time he’s taken on an underappreciated wind instrument as the soloist instrument of a concerto (his Bassoon Concerto is up on Spotify, and is well worth a listen if this is your cup of tea), and though that concerto is with a full orchestra, as opposed to this one being only strings, they both seem to function along the same method of keeping the fluttering of the central instrument rippling through the orchestra, a relationship I imagine as a mayfly hovering over a once-still pond, the impetus of the orchestra being entirely dictated through fleeting moments of contact with the solo instrument’s texture, only to grow silent as the material courses its way through the orchestra. It’s incredibly impressive, and probably one of the better ways to approach the wind family of instruments, definitely beats the “My flute sounds just as purdy as your violin!” style concerto that dominates the repertoire. An incredible upload, as usual, one can only hope that Lent will never end!

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