One short piece that caught my ear recently was the delightful Geordie Tunes for descant recorder and harpsichord by Peter Hope. They feature on a new CD of works by North Country composers released by Prima Facie. The work consists of five ‘straightforward’ arrangements of Northumberland tunes. I am afraid that I did not recognize the first three, however Peter Hope has kindly sent me this list:-
The five ‘movements’ are based on ‘Go to Berwick, Johnny’, ‘Bonny at Morn’, ‘Fairly Shot of Her’, ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ and ‘Bobby Shaftoe’. For many listeners these ‘tunes’ will bring mind the late Kathleen Ferrier: certainly the beautiful ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ for which she was justly renowned.
The composer told me that the genesis of the ‘Tunes’ goes back to the 1970s when he ‘collected’ a number of North Country folk tunes with the intention of making orchestral arrangements of them. This work was not realised. Eventually, in 2009 Hope rediscovered the melodies and felt they would make an excellent set of ‘easy’ recorder pieces.
It is fair to say that these pieces are not simple. It is true that there is little development or variation, but that is not the purpose of the suite. Peter Hope has suggested to me that that the invention there is contained in the idiomatic harpsichord part. I imagine that soloists will have to take great pains in any performance of this work. I remember a well-known musician once telling me an old adage – easy notes hard to interpret: difficult notes, easier to ‘fake.’ It may not be 100% guaranteed, but it serves as a warning.
One reviewer of a live performance has noted that these ‘tunes’ are ‘delightful and unpretentious, these miniatures are utterly charming, and make a fine entertainment, which pleased us all.’ It is a good analysis.
There is at least two other arrangements of this work. The first is scored for descant recorder, oboe, guitar, string quartet, harpsichord and piano: Hope doubts that the work will be performed in that format again! The second is for descant recorder, string orchestra and harp. The published version is for descant recorder (or oboe) & piano (or harpsichord with optional cello.
Geordie Tunes was first performed on 2nd October, 2009 in Bury Parish Church with John Turner, recorder, Ian Thompson, harpsichord and Jonathan Price, cello.
Finally, it is no secret that John Turner suggested the title of the work to the composer. It was an inspired choice.
The Geordie Tunes are available on Recorder Fireworks PRIMA FACIE PFCD010. The work (in its original version) is published by Forsyth’s of Manchester.