The following review is reprinted with permission from the September 1998 edition of the Recorder Magazine:


"And the day will end with a massed playing session" is a familiar format for the one day recorder workshop, but a phrase that strikes dread in my soul as I think of my beginner and intermediate recorder players who have struggled manfully through the day's playing sessions to be faced with an eight part Gabrielli that they haven't a hope of playing even one note in the bar and usually reduces them to tears.

But "nil desperandum". At last, a composer, Anthony Purnell, recognises the problem and has produced the Festival Series of seven pieces which can cater for our needs.

The pieces are in 7 or 8 parts with 3 easy parts, one for elementary descant, one for intermediate descant and one for intermediate treble or tenor. These parts cover a limited range of notes, mainly D to C' with Fp in the elementary descant part, C to D' with Fp and Fc in the intermediate descant and G to G' in the intermediate alto/tenor part. These easy parts have straightforward rhythms.The remaining parts are for sopranino, descant, treble, tenor and bass and are much more challenging both in the range of notes and rhythms. I like the way the score gives full details of each part's range and complexity on the beginning page as well as helpful performance notes.

The first title in the series, Travelling in Style, has the easiest elementary descant part using three notes, G, A, B. Beginners will probably need to learn the rhythms in the third movement by rote. The three movements, "Pullman", "Blue Sun" and "Travelling" introduce styles from Big Band Sound to Rock and have some challenges in notes and rhythms in the advanced parts.

London Transport is in four movements and although the short third movement, "Commuter Train", which includes voice, can be omitted, it would seem a pity to do so, as it adds a touch of humour to the piece. The first movement, "District Line", has a two bar ostinato to be played by the elementary descant which can easily be learned by players lacking confidence, whilst the other two movements, "Double Decker" and "Black Cab" have plenty of interesting rhythms in the advanced parts. The bass part of this suite is optional as in the rest of the suites in this series except for Southern Roots and Travelling in Style.

The three movements of Southern Roots, "Vaudeville", "Blues" and "Spiritual" have a lot of audience appeal with their swingy rhythms. The "Blues" is the most challenging for the advanced parts, but again, the easy parts are quite straightforward so that players can enjoy taking part without getting fraught.

States of Mind was the first piece to be written in the series and again is in three movements, "Concentration", "Daydream" and "Playtime". The whole suite is more straightforward than the others in the series and could be tackled by fairly intermediate "advanced" players.

With Suede Shoes and Polka Dots the style moves to Rock and Roll with a suggestion of using drums or a rhythm machine to accompany the suite in performance. This two-movement piece, "The Drive-in" and "The Prom", should also have audience appeal with its rock rhythms. The easier parts are still quite straightforward except for the alto/tenor part which sometimes has to play 3 notes against 2 but it is aided by the advanced alto part so should be able to cope.

Through the Arches of Time is a programmatic piece representing a journey along the river Medway from Aylesford to Maidstone. In the first movement, "The Priory", we hear the monks chanting, whilst the second movement evokes a journey up "The River". The final movement, "Market Day", is full of hustle and bustle. A few simple avant-garde techniques are used in the middle movement which adds to the interest of the piece.

The final suite in the series, Shadows and Windy Places, is a continuous piece, building a musical picture of the North Downs with "The Coldrum Stones", "Meopham Windmill" and even a "Highway Man". The sopranino part is quite exposed and fairly challenging and the advanced treble and tenor parts are kept pretty busy. There are quite a lot of time changes to keep people on their toes especially in the 5/4 section.

The Festival Series will be a boon to any recorder teacher with a mixed ability group who is trying to find a piece for the next concert. The suites are sold in large or small sets of score with 20 and 10 parts respectively at a cost which is probably within the school or music centre's budget

So, thank you, Mr Purnell, for your sympathetic arrangements. I shall look forward to using some of these suites at the next opportunity.

Janice Ormerod

The Recorder Magazine September 1998


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