Andriessen’s Recorders – Rachel Barnes (13 October)


Rachel Barnes (recorders) &
Becky Thomson (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Grahame Woolf

Reviewed: 13 October, 2002
Venue: The Space, Westferry Road, The Isle of Dogs, London

This unofficial ’fringe’ spin-off during the South Bank Centre’s Louis Andriessen Festival was revelatory and hugely enjoyable. Rachel Barnes is one of the new breed of recorder virtuosi. She studied in Holland and now specialises, bravely and exclusively, in contemporary music! The Space is an intimate venue, which proved ideal for her domesticated instruments.

The four contrasted works by Andriessen date from the mid-’60s to the early ’80s.Sweet, composed for Frans Brüggen in 1964, was intended to be ’unplayable’ when composed, but is now firmly established in the mainstream repertoire for the recorder, an easy instrument to start, a hard one to master! It took the humble treble recorder to regions many might think it could not reach. Visually, Sweet was not the ideal starter, because Rachel was obliged to sit behind her music stand (the piece looked impossible to memorise!) so as to be able to ’stop’ the end hole of her recorder on her knee.

The graphic score of ten Paintings (1965) is split between piano and recorder; in this performance five different sizes of recorders, one of them a keyed ’harmonic tenor’. Rachel Barnes used the opportunity to revel in the timbres high and low available to her – perhaps the figures devised by the pianist were less enterprising than might be?

The most challenging work for the players, and listeners too, was ostensibly simpler. It is a (nearly) unison Melodie (1981) lasting nearly 25 minutes, developed by Louis Andriessen from hearing a child practising laboriously with his mother – only in the latter part do the two instruments part company slightly, because the recorder can ’bend’ notes but the piano can’t! The encore, Ende for two recorders in one mouth, was composed for Brüggen in 1981 – Andriessen made a virtue of the necessarily limited number of tones possible with one hand each. Barnes is not a showy performer, but she endeared herself to an appreciative audience, including children, most of whom would never have heard anything like it before.

  • Rachel Barnes & Becky Thomson give a recital of mixed contemporary repertoire, including two of the Andriessen works above, at St. Cyprians Church, Glentworth Street, London NW1. Saturday 16 November at 7.30.

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