Given Peter Hope’s long career as an arranger, orchestrator, and composer of light and commercial music, it should come as no surprise that the sonatas on this recording are colorful, entertaining, and an eminently pleasant way to spend an hour. Moreover, Hope has stayed true to the conception of the sonata as a chamber work, a collaboration between equals that is as rewarding for the performers as it is for the audience.
The disc opens with a sonata for oboe and piano, played by Richard Simpson and Janet Simpson, respectively. The evocative music is reminiscent of a film score, though one might wish for a bit more ebb and flow in the lyrical sections, especially from the oboe. The recording balances the two players well, but in doing so some of the oboe’s richness may have been lost. A jazz-inflected finale shows off tight ensemble playing, the piano’s walking bass lines dovetailing seamlessly with oboe obbligatos and riffs. The Clarinet Sonata that follows is cast in the same mold, with a lyrical opening movement and a vernacular-styled finale, this time swapping a jazz idiom for that of a Klezmer band. As with the oboe, it seems that the clarinet’s sound has been restricted in the recording or mixing in the service of a balanced recording, but this does Thomas Verity a disservice, cutting off the highs and lows of his dramatic phrasing, especially in the third movement’s Klezmer-inspired inflections and ebullient passagework.
The Recorder Sonata is perhaps the most interesting work on the program, in part because of the various textural contrasts and the relative novelty of hearing a recorder in modern repertoire. Hope’s orchestrations are especially noteworthy here. He is sensitive to the dynamic constraints of the recorder, using creative—almost Impressionistic—voicings in the piano that never obscure Turner’s delicate, subtle playing. Turner’s virtuosity is also on display in the third movement, which features descant, treble, and tenor recorders and a number of difficult technical passages. Frank Forst and Yukiko Sano turn in a restrained performance of the Bassoon Sonata, and Forst’s lyrical lines are mournful without being sappy. Some of the articulations in the finale are a touch pecky, but this does not detract significantly from the excellent technical execution.
The final two works on the program are not sonatas as such. Tallis Remembered is a short set of variations for (in this version) recorder, clarinet, and piano (Passmore), inspired by Wendy Cope’s poem “Tallis’s Canon,” which is reproduced in the liner notes. Verity’s silken clarinet presents Tallis’s well-known canon in a manner that recalls Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Clarinet and recorder intertwine with variations and obbligato lines. The only distraction in an otherwise smooth performance comes at 1:40, when Verity’s arpeggios outline the harmonic progression a little too percussively. The disc closes with a whimsical piece for solo treble recorder and speaker (Pam Zinnemann-Hope), A Walk with my Dog, Molly. The recorder’s “walking tune” acts as a ritornello amid rhapsodic episodes, which are punctuated by vocal interjections that one might accompany a walk with one’s dog, including an exhortation to “stop chasing the cat.”
Although all the performances on this disc are more than competent, it is Peter Hope’s music that is the main attraction, tuneful, inventive, and accessible; the works on this recording are wel-come contributions to the wind repertoire. Certainly on the lighter side, they were wholly successful at brightening my day, a reminder of why we need this kind of music. I suspect Mr. Hope would not take offense at my assessment.