Michael Wolters: Kathryn and Peter play the Recorder

Released January 30, 2014
Re-released June 28, 2019

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The recorder is widely associated with the out of tune squealings of misbehaving school children on disposable plastic toys. These two albums by Michael Wolters prove that the instrument is more than mere childʼs play, with twenty-five pieces in which the composer casts his typical questioning eye over music history, technical virtuosity and cultural customs.

Woltersʼ relationship with the instrument began in 1997 when he met the extraordinary recorder duo Kathryn Bennetts and Peter Bowman. Their exceptional skills and their enthusiasm for research into undiscovered areas of sound made them ideal collaborators for Wolters, whose music so often focuses on dismantling established boundaries.

It wasnʼt just the sound of the instrument that inspired the composer, it was also its status as a former staple instrument of the music world now fallen on hard times. “The recorder is looked down on, pushed to the sidelines and ignored. I find it much more interesting to work with something that has a questionable reputation, rather than a refined high status,” he explains.

Modern wind instruments use complex key mechanisms, meaning the holes are either open or closed. In contrast, recorder players can use their fingers to find the pitch nuances in between. “Thereʼs a lot more between C and D than just C sharp, and writing for recorder allows me to explore that. Microtonality also doesn’t have the best reputation, so again that stimulates me. I am particularly excited by the idea of introducing microtones into pop music harmony.”

Kathryn and Peter play the Recorder sets the iconic instrument in a variety of contexts: with voice (7 Shakespeare Songs), voice and harpsichord (My own step-song), recorder ensemble (The Voyage) and amplified ensemble (German Folk Tunes). “The sound really shines in this studio recording of The Voyage. It brings out the different sonorities of the instruments much more than in the live recording.”

CD2 is entirely dedicated to the monumental forty-minute Antarctica duet: Kathryn und Peter durchqueren die Antarktis (Kathryn and Peter cross the Antarctic). This is a journey through a cross-section diagram of the Antarctic, entirely composed of eighth- tones. One recorder follows the surface of the ice while the other traces the contours of the bedrock below. This haunting soundscape formed the basis for a radio play (commissioned and broadcast by DeutschlandRadio) and a stage show, both produced in collaboration with theatre artist Marcus Droß. The piece was described as “powerfully evocative” and “spellbinding” by American Recorder magazine (September 2004).

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