12 Interesting Performances by Professional Recorder Ensembles

Updated on March 31, 2019
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton has loved music since childhood. She plays the piano and recorder, sings, and listens to classical, folk, and early music.

A recorder player from Ensemble de Musique Ancienne in Nantes
A recorder player from Ensemble de Musique Ancienne in Nantes | Source

A Rewarding Instrument

The recorder is a wonderful solo and ensemble instrument. It can provide an enjoyable introduction to music for children and adults and can also be played at an advanced level. Though people may begin their study with the soprano (or descant) instrument and happily stay with it as they explore its repertoire, some players explore other sizes of recorders with different pitches.

Unfortunately, some people have a bad opinion of the recorder due to hearing cheap plastic instruments played by beginners. The cheapest soprano instruments sometimes produce a shrill and harsh sound, especially when played by young children in a group. The recorder—including the soprano version—can actually produce a lovely sound.

The instrument has a rich heritage and is being used in new ways. It offers us far more than some people may realize. In this article I share and discuss twelve of my favourite performances by professional recorder ensembles.

In the video above, Sarah Jeffery discusses her collection of recorders and briefly demonstrates their sounds. Sarah is currently a member of The Royal Wind Music, a large group of recorder players described below.

Types of Recorders

The recorder is classified as a woodwind instrument and a duct flute. It has a whistle mouthpiece or a fipple. The different sizes of the instrument produce their own pitch range. The material that they are made of, their construction, and the player's skill also affect their sound.

Determining how many types of recorders exist is a difficult task. Some manufacturers make huge and/or strange instruments that look nothing like a typical recorder. I don't know how historically accurate these are. This may not matter, depending on one's goals for creating a piece of music. Like music itself, instruments change over time as new features are created.

In order of increasing size and decreasing pitch, major kinds of recorder are the:

  • sopranino
  • soprano (descant)
  • alto (treble)
  • tenor
  • bass
  • great bass
  • contrabass
  • sub-contrabass

I play the alto recorder, which I prefer to the ones with a higher pitch. The biggest instruments are so large that they need keys in order to be played and a special mouthpiece. In addition, the bell on the bottom of the instrument must rest on a support. A recorder quartet often consists of the most common instruments: the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

Recorders of different types
Recorders of different types | Source

An ensemble is a group of instruments and/or voices. The term "consort" was used in the 16th and 17th century to refer to ensembles. Today a group of recorder players is known as either an ensemble or a consort. In the case of a group of four or five players, it may also be known as a quartet or quintet.

The Quinta Essentia Recorder Quartet

The Quinta Essentia Recorder Quartet is a Brazilian group. In the video below, Paul Leenhouts plays with them. He's a recorder player, a composer, and a conductor. He's also the director of the Early Music Studies Program at the University of North Texas College of Music. He founded The Royal Wind Music ensemble and was its artistic director from 1997 to 2010.

The square, light-coloured recorders in the video may look very strange to someone who hasn't seen them before. According to a comment on the group's YouTube video that was confirmed by one of the quartet's representatives, they are modern Paetzold bass recorders. (Various sizes of these instruments are also shown in other videos in this article.) Paetzold is a recorder manufacturer.

Three Traditional Irish Songs

Jenny's Chickens

The first of the three songs played by the group is a traditional Irish reel called "Jenny's Chickens". A reel is a lively folk dance with two or four beats to a bar. I don't know who Jenny was or why her chickens were worthy of a reel in their name, but the jaunty tune sounds very interesting in a recorder ensemble version.

The Garten Mother's Lullaby

"Garten Mother's Lullaby" flows in a slower and gentler manner, as would be expected from its name. Garten is a parish in County Donegal. The lyrics were written by Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil, who was also known as Joseph Campbell. The melody was a traditional one collected by Herbert Hughes. The piece was first published in a 1904 book entitled Songs of Uladh. The lyrics contain references to Irish mythology as well as a gentle address to a baby.

King William's Rambles

"King William's Rambles" is the last piece. It's classified as a traditional Irish jig, which like a reel is a folk dance. A jig has two beats to a bar. Each of these beats is in turn divided into a group of three. The writer in the Bitesize Irish article referenced below suggests that the listener says JIG-ged-y, JIG-ged-y repeatedly as they listen to a tune. If that matches the pulse of the tune, it's a jig. I tried it with the last piece played in the video above and found that it works.

A Rondo and a Gigue

The piece above is played by a recorder quartet. Thanks to modern technology, Orlan Charles plays each of the four parts. He's a Brazilian musician who plays the recorder and other instruments.

The piece is a rondo from Abdelazer, or The Moor's Revenge, which was composed by a Baroque composer named Henry Purcell (1659-1695). The piece was used as incidental music for a play of the same name by Aphra Behn. The play is no longer performed, but Purcell's music is still popular.

In the video below, Orlan Charles uses the same technique as in the first video. He plays all five parts of a gigue of his own composition. The effect is very interesting. It gives a new meaning to the term "recorder ensemble".

The dates of musical eras are somewhat fluid. The Renaissance period is often said to have flourished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Baroque period is said to have begun in the early seventeenth century.

Diligam Te Domine

Ascanio Trombetti was an Italian composer and wind instrument player who lived from 1544 to 1590. The sound of his "Diligam Te Domine" composition as played in the video below is slow, deep, and sonorous. The title of the piece refers to a line in the Bible. In Latin, Psalm 18 begins with the sentence "Diligam te, Domine, fortitudo mea". The address means "I love you, Lord, my strength". In the psalm, King David expresses his love for the powerful deity that protects him and describes some of this deity's impressive abilities.

The Royal Wind Music performs the piece in the video. The group is based in Amsterdam and plays modern recorders of a Renaissance style. It currently contains thirteen members. Paul Leenhouts is the conductor in the video.

Bransle Gay

A bransle gay is one name for a French folk dance that first appeared in the sixteenth century. The dance was performed by couples in a line or a circle. The pair held hands or linked their arms and moved together as the dance progressed. The movement involved steps first to one side and then to the other, which made the line of dancers look as though it was swaying.

The rhythm in the piece below is intriguing. It sounds more like people jumping than dancing to me, but it's an enjoyable piece. The piece is linked to the name of Pierre Phalèse, a sixteenth-century printer of music. It's interesting to see and hear people playing renaissance-style recorders while seeing modern traffic in the background of the video.

Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)

The piece below shows the versatility of recorder ensembles. The group is called the Flanders Recorder Quartet, though they've become a quintet for this piece. The piece that they play dates from 1936 and was a popular jazz, swing, or big band piece of the era. It was written by Louis Prima for his band known as the New Orleans Gang.

Some of the recorder players shown in the videos in this article are playing shiny black instruments. This might give the impression that the instruments are made of plastic. They are almost certainly stained wooden ones, however. In a comment on the original YouTube video, the alto recorder player in the video below says that he's playing a wooden instrument.

The Woodpeckers Recorder Quartet

The Woodpeckers Recorder Quartet consists of four women who met while they were students at The Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden. The musicians come from four different countries: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Ireland. Each of them has a successful solo career. Based on the videos that I've seen, their performances as a quartet are enjoyable.

The women sometimes do more in a performance than simply play their recorders, as can be seen in the videos below. They are entertainers as well as musicians. They give performances specifically for children as well as ones for all ages. According to the information on their website, it seems that the women perform as soloists or with other groups most of the time and come together occasionally as The Woodpecker Quartet.

In the first video below, the women play the third movement of Vivaldi's Recorder Concerto in C major. In the second, they play the Contrapunctus IX from The Art of Fugue by J.S. Bach.

Greensleeves to a Ground

The piece below is a variation of the Greensleeves melody. The original tune may not be recognized by someone listening to the piece or recognized only in some sections. The "ground" refers to a ground bass, or a repeated melody in the bass part.

The piece may sound modern, but it first appeared in a published form in a 1706 collection called The Division Flute. The collection was created by John Walsh. The word "division" in the title means variation in today's terminology. The word "flute" means the recorder.

The Fontanella Recorder Quintet performs the piece. The ensemble is a British group that specializes in historical music, new music, and education. I don't know how similar their piece is to the eighteenth-century Walsh version, but it's enjoyable to listen to.

Autumn Leaves

The video below is also performed by the Fontanella Recorder Quintet. The piece is called "Autumn Leaves" and was arranged by one of the players. I don't know the name of the composer.

The performance shows another style of music that can be created with a group of modern recorders. The instruments are useful in new and experimental music and well as in classical, jazz, folk, and early music. Some groups are exploring the production of unusual sounds by recorders.

A Useful Instrument

The recorder is a lovely instrument. It's a great purchase for someone of any age who has never played a musical instrument before or who is new to reading sheet music. It enables people to play music from different periods of time on their own or in the company of others. It also allows people to compose their own music. If someone has no desire to play a recorder—or if they do—listening to professional recorder players can be very enjoyable.

References

Information about jigs and reels from Bitesize Irish

A brief biography of Henry Purcell from baroquemusic.org

Facts about a ground bass from Encyclopedia Britannica

Bransles in Stravinksy's ballet Agon (with information about the bransle gay) from a University of Houston doctoral candidate

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Crampton

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      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Adrienne. Thanks for the visit. I wish more people knew about the recorder family. Playing a recorder can be very enjoyable.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the comment, Dianna. I'm glad you enjoyed the music. I once thought that school soprano recorders were all that existed. I'm very glad that I discovered the other types!

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

        2 weeks ago from USA

        I wasn't aware of such an instrument going by that name, so interesting! Now, that I think about it though, I think my sister had one many years ago. The pictures of these flutes look familiar.

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        2 weeks ago

        The sound from these recorders is amazing! I enjoyed the music immensely. Thanks for bringing my attention to this instrument. I have to say that I thought they only existed as those plastic pieces we had to play in fifth grade. Amazing, just simply amazing!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the visit and the kind comment, Genna.

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 

        2 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Hi Linda...

        Your articles are always so interesting! And well researched and presented. This one focuses on one of my favorite themes -- music. The recorder is a delightful flute all its own -- from soft and warm tones, to bright and strident -- it's music is a delight.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Liz. It’s interesting that so many types of recorders exist. I’d like to try playing all of them.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Bill. Yes, the large and square recorders are very impressive. It would be interesting to try playing them!

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        3 weeks ago from Massachusetts

        Very interesting Linda. My only experience with this instrument was as a kid with what was probably a plastic version. Those large square recorders are amazing. And I can't believe how large some of them are in the Royal Wind Music performance. Fascinating.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        3 weeks ago from UK

        When I was at primary school, recorders were the 'go to' instrument for children to learn to play in the UK. By secondary I came across those who played other types of recorder. But your article takes the recorder to another level for me.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Heidi. I think it's great when children begin the process of learning how to play an instrument. It's a shame that it sometimes gives recorders a bad name, though. Like you, I think the recorder in all its forms is a lovely instrument. I think that technology is cool, too!

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

        Oh gosh! I remember those darned plastic recorders. Luckily, my dad was a musician and had the wood ones which were definitely lovely.

        Good recorder music always reminds me of medieval times for some reason. I especially like Orlan Charles' "ensemble." Ain't technology cool?

        Thanks for sharing an in-depth look at this simple and simply beautiful insrument!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Mel. The soprano recorder is a strange instrument. It can sound so good or so bad, depending on the situation!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing the interesting information, Patty.

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 

        3 weeks ago from San Diego California

        I was one of those skeptical about the recorder, I confess, having cringed my way through a couple of dissonant elementary school concerts. Thanks for educating me about the recorder's real value.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

        Patty Inglish MS 

        3 weeks ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        We did not have recorders as kids but we had noisy harmonicas! Lol

        Anyway, i think the recorder became the natve woooden flute in Korea, Japan, and the one i've played - Eastern Woodlands Natve America.

        The players and narratve in your article are talented, joyous, and make me want to play again!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Yes, I think some people would be surprised by the recorder’s abilities! It’s an interesting instrument.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Bill. I think it’s an interesting instrument, too. It’s very versatile.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 weeks ago from USA

        It’s hard to believe this is the same instrument as the one the kids play in elementary school! Thanks for sharing this information.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        There was a time during the 60's when a lot of rock bands experimented with the recorder. It's a pretty interesting instrument, and I loved these facts about it.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Vellur. I love the Woodpeckers group, too. The shrillness can be avoided by buying a good instrument and learning how to play it properly. It may help to buy one of the larger recorders than the soprano one. These have a more mellow tone.

      • Vellur profile image

        Nithya Venkat 

        3 weeks ago from Dubai

        The recorder sounds a little shrill but the pieces I heard sound lovely. I loved the Woodpeckers group, they sound great. I have heard the recorder before but did not know there were different types, thank you for sharing.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks, Larry. I appreciate your visit and comment.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the comment and for sharing your experience, Pamela. My sister learned how to play the recorder in school, but I never did. I'm glad that I eventually decided to learn how to play the instrument.

      • Larry Slawson profile image

        Larry Slawson 

        3 weeks ago from North Carolina

        Very interesting! Thank you for sharing, Linda!

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        When I was in gr, and ammer school we had recorders and I think they were probably plastic. I really liked the Irish music and most of the others as well.

        This was a very interesting article about the recorders, and it has brought back some old memories as well. Grammer school was quite different in those days, and I think I had a better education then children get today unfortunately. Thanks for giving us so much historical information.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, Jackie. I'm glad you enjoyed the music.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        3 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

        I enjoyed this so much, Linda. So many and all very easy to listen to. Thank you.

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