HRS Reviews


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: Boxgrove Priory, Chichester, Sunday, 6th July 2014

The visit of the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia to Boxgrove Priory on July 6th - for the first time since 2008 - drew an appreciative audience which was entertained with a varied and balanced programme led by Christopher Burgess, its inspirational conductor. Boxgrove Priory is well known and valued for its acoustic properties, so kindly enhancing to voice, wind and strings and this was fully exploited by intelligent use of the building space during the performance.

The concert opened with an arrangement by Sylvia Corinna Rosin of the Prelude and Fugue in C major from the Eight Short Preludes and Fugues attributed to J.S.Bach. It was pleasant to hear an old friend, having cut my organist’s teeth on this collection many years ago.

The Prelude set off at a cracking pace, but I felt that the semiquaver figures, undoubtedly played with precision, fell victim to the inherent resonance of the Priory and lost some of the ‘tracker action’ clarity of brisk organ playing. Perhaps it would have worked with one to a part grouping in this respect. The Fugue fared better, as semiquavers are there, but in shorter measure, and the piece concluded triumphantly.

As a contrast, Alan Davis’s arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring which followed, afforded an opportunity for a rich sound from the contrabasses, great basses and bass recorders which came into their own with the chorale floating above the accompaniment. The final Bach offering arranged by Christopher Burgess from Cantata BWV 140 and otherwise known as Wachet Auf! also proved well suited to the recorder orchestra repertoire.

Chris Burgess gave an introduction to each concert item, providing background information and thus enabling the audience to appreciate the qualities of each piece. This was specially valued in relation to the Midsummer Meadow Suite by Lyndon Hilling, with its Battle of Northampton, Becket’s Well and Northampton Carnival.

The Battle of Northampton illustrated warring factions engaging in conflict during the War of the Roses and followed an historical precedent of Battle Pavans and John Jenkins’ Siedge (sic) of Newark for viols, while evocative scoring led the listener through damp mists to the dripping water of Becket’s Well and his subsequent escape. We then whisked off to Northampton Carnival in a throbbing, multi ethnic crowd and could almost smell the curried goat!

Helen Hooker then gave a solo performance of Music for a Bird by Hans-Martin Linde and ably demonstrated a range of techniques which were ground-breakingly experimental forty years ago but are now standard for modern recorder players. The bird calls and the Priory acoustic wonderfully evoked a tropical rainforest. Helen’s next item featured an arrangement by Steve Marshall of an anonymous Trotto which had us all (in spirit at least) dancing in the aisles and appreciating her impeccable technique.

The first half of the programme finished with the whole Sinfonia in Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther, accompanied by finger clicks and with a suitably louche, nightclub feel to it………oh, recorders are SO versatile! Helen gave us a masterly riff and the final descending glissando brought the house down.

After an interval with fruit punch and delicious cakes, the players reassembled in six groups round the Priory, enclosing the audience in a fascinating web of sound. There was a feeling of being in the ‘eye’ of a storm centre, a ‘Spem in Alium’ moment, as William Daman’s Fantasia di Sei Soprani was performed on tenors and basses. The low pitch instruments gave a rich sonority and antiphonal effect probably not obtained on soprano recorders.

Helen Hooker and Glyn Evans then played Variations on Est-ce-Mars? by Van Eyck as a conversation piece, each reply being more elaborate in ornament, and the ensemble picked up the theme for a Canzon by Scheidt, with nicely managed moves to the tripla sections.

We were brought to the 20th century with a masterly arrangement by Denis Bloodworth of the three movements of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite. Seventeen Come Sunday had a light, sprightly feel while My Bonny Boy was in the Waly, Waly genre, a lovely, lyrical modal folk song. The dotted rhythms in Folk Songs from Somerset were crisply articulated with sopranino reiterations of the theme.

Bambo Mambo by Andrew Challinger and arranged by Christopher Burgess provided a touch of nostalgia for the conductor who spent many years encouraging and teaching children the recorder, and who could fail to respond to this piece, with its punchy lower lines and sustained melody above intriguing dissonances which would surely appeal to young players.

As a final offering, the Sinfonia gave us Baby Elephant Walk by Henry Mancini, a real fun piece. Reluctant to allow the players to disband, the audience insisted on an encore and was treated to a re-run of Pink Panther with Vikki Revell’s sparkling riff. Altogether the best Sunday afternoon’s entertainment I’ve had for some time and may the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia long continue to delight us.

Barbara Ruffles


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: St James’ Emsworth, Sunday, 25th March 2012

Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia is not the biggest orchestra in the country, but they don’t let that hold them back. On March 25th, under the baton of their Musical Director, Christopher Burgess, they ably demonstrated their innate capacity to play with gusto and sparkle in their latest programme ‘A Celtic Cluster’.

St James’ Emsworth is a wide, light church, which allowed the orchestra to spread out just below the choir. They began with ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball‘ by William Percy French (arr. Maurice Bale) and the players’ initial nervousness disappeared as they successfully negotiated the difficulties of the music. The members of the audience were tapping their feet as the piece moved through various dances. David Moses’ Rigs, Jigs and Reels put us firmly back in recognisably Celtic mode. Once again the orchestra negotiated some tricky passages and some exciting changes of speed to bring us safely to rest at the end. Elgar, a firm favourite composer of the Sinfonia was represented in this concert by the ‘Woodland Interlude’ from Caractacus (arr. Denis Bloodworth) on the basis that Caractacus was an Ancient Briton and thus a Celt. Some adaptations of Elgar for recorder orchestra are not very successful, but the ‘Woodland Interlude’ worked very well and the playing was in keeping with the mood of the piece.

In the final piece of the first half Helen Hooker picked up three recorders and went centre stage as the soloist in Eileen Silcocks’ ‘Serenade’, a work which manages to be both traditional and modern at the same time, with its haunting tunes and minimalist accompaniment. Each of the instruments has a turn at different times at being either the bagpipe drone or the bagpipe tune. This was the work that attracted most comment during the interval and after the concert, all of it positive. Helen’s playing was exceptional and she was well-supported by the orchestra.

After the interval we heard the piece that gave the programme its name – Steve Marshall’s ‘A Celtic Cluster’. These are four Irish tunes ranging from the fast and furious ‘Harvest Home’ to the plangent ‘Star of County Down’. It seemed impossible that the initial speed of Harvest Home could be maintained with any expectation of accuracy on the part of the players, but it was, despite their apparent misgivings. This set of songs is an old favourite of the Sinfonia’s and they play it with assurance. This was followed by David of the White Rock, (arr. Daryl Runswick) played by lower instruments and the change to lower pitch made it very welcome. This was followed by Edward German’s ’Three Dances from Henry VIII’ (arr. Denis Bloodworth). The very exciting ‘Torch Dance’ quite took my breath away with the speed and accuracy with which it was played. ‘Regent Street Stomp’ by Paul Reeves had been arranged by Alison Raines, a member of the orchestra. This time the orchestra did come apart a few times owing to the speed at which the piece was played. Nonetheless it was an impressive bit of playing and I should like to hear it again when the orchestra are more familiar with it. The concert ended with another Steve Marshal piece, the ‘Songs of Caledonia’. These four Scottish songs enchanted the audience, thanks to Marshall’s inspirational writing and the orchestra’s enthusiastic playing.

Caroline Worely


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: Portsmouth Cathedral, Portsmouth, Saturday, 19th March 2011

Any concert that focuses on a single instrumental timbre can so easily be a tedious experience for the listener; considerable skill is required when organising a concert of this kind to maintain audience interest. Conductor Christopher Burgess’s well thought-out planning for the above concert ensured that audience attention was rewardingly maintained throughout. The programme was varied, with compositions ranging from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century, and within this there was considerable variety of ensemble: full orchestra, orchestra with off-stage effects, three and four choir antiphonal items and a baroque solo concerto.

The acoustic in Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral can be a washy affair, but it suited the players well, highlighting their wide dynamic range, sense of ensemble and good intonation. After a very lively start with the Gopak from Mussorgsky’s ‘Sorochintsy Fair,’ the players moved on to Lyndon Hilling’s ‘Midsummer Meadow Suite’. This was one of the most interesting and substantial items on the programme. I particularly enjoyed the atmospheric second movement ‘Becket’s Well’, with its off-stage players representing drops of water.

Mention has already been made of the need for variation of timbre and the next two items, ‘Quemadmodum’ by John Taverner and Sammartini’s Concerto in F major, dispensed with both sopranino and descant recorders - although actually there was one descant in the Sammartini, that of soloist Charlie Raines who played with great fluency and accuracy, without sacrificing musicality. Her performance was justifiably well received. In this concerto she was ably accompanied by HRS under the direction of their assistant musical director Helen Hooker.

Two antiphonal items opened the second part of the programme: a four-choir 16 part Canzona by Massaino and then one for three choirs in 12 parts by Gabrieli. The first of these was the least successful item in the concert, the four wide-spread groups of players experiencing some ensemble difficulties here. The Gabrieli, a much better piece of music, was much more successful and the antiphonal interplay was confident and precise. These were followed by Ian Schofield’s ‘Parodies and Paraphrases on L’Homme Armé’ in five movements. This is another substantial work and presents its players with challenges of technique, musicianship and ensemble. I have heard HRS perform this work before, and with firm direction from Christopher Burgess, they now play this work convincingly and with great confidence. An arrangement of Barber’s ‘Adagio’, by John Hawkes, showed HRS’s sustained playing and intonation off to good effect, though I remain to be convinced that this piece actually works in recorder transcription.

This was followed by Glen Shannon’s ‘Fipple Dance’. This included tongue-clicking and other vocal noises from the players, and was enthusiastically performed. I did feel it was a little over-long. Its first section, the one that had the ‘effects’ was quite lengthy and worked very well, but it did (for me) lose its appeal when repeated after a contrasting middle section. The concert concluded with Bartok’s ‘Romanian Dances’. I was interested to see how these would work when played by recorder orchestra and Denis Bloodworth’s arrangement was totally convincing. They provided a suitably lively concluding item and were played with great gusto.

The large audience was enthusiastic in its appreciation of this well planned and performed concert which was presented by The Portsmouth Association for the Blind.

David Holmes


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: Open Day at the Community Centre, Petersfield , Sunday, 11th July 2010

The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia celebrated its 100th concert by bravely inviting all comers for an Open Day on Sunday 11th July 2010; the only prerequisites were being able to play the recorder, and having some experience of ensemble playing. I took my treble recorder, and my past experience in the wind section of a concert orchestra, along to the Love Lane community centre in Petersfield, and prepared to do battle with F fingering for the first time in a while! I was comforted to see that I was not the only visitor with a fingering chart carefully positioned behind the music.

We numbered 46 players, half of whom were visitors, including a scattering of school age children. The oldest player was 94 and had taken up recorder playing when she was 80 – testimony to life long learning!

Chairman Penny Smith introduced the day and welcomed visitors before Chris Burgess (Musical Director) opened proceedings with a play through of ‘Scarborough Fair’, an arrangement by Steve Marshall, conductor of the ‘Orchestra on the Hill’ and a major contributing force to the music written and arranged for recorder orchestra.

The high standards that Chris expects from the players, and the high regard in which he is held, was apparent from the affectionate ribbing he received when it turned out that he had forgotten his pencil and had to borrow one from a player!

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The ‘Northern’ theme continued with the Whitby Suite by Paul Barnsley, conducted by Assistant Musical Director, Helen Hooker. This piece was challenging and we had to work hard, particularly on the 2nd movement, but Helen reassured us that we didn’t need to manage all of the notes as there were plenty of players, so between us we would cover them all! The 2nd Movement (‘The Town’) featured the sound of seagulls, a ship’s horn, and a wistfully melodic tenor solo. In the 3rd movement (‘In the Sea’) we learned that ‘fret’ is a Yorkshire word for ‘mist’, and were treated to sorrowfully ethereal sounds from the great basses.

After coffee, Helen took us through Steve Marshall’s ‘Variations on À Chantar’, based on a 14th century melody by La Comtesa de Dia. It was beautiful and simple (all notes managed by all players I suspect!) and led by a descant solo melody.

Then it was back to Chris for a change of country and tempo in the form of Bartok’s Roumanian Dances, originally written for piano and arranged for recorder orchestra. We played all the movements: Jocul cu bata (the stick dance); Braul (waistband dance); Pe Loc (stamping dance), Buciumeana (horn dance); and Poarga Romaneasca (Roumanian polka). This item was full of high energy and skillfully led, with Chris taking evident delight in being able to push and pull tempo and pauses. As Helen had earlier remarked, ‘A conductor doesn’t wish to appear to be a control freak, but it is helpful if players glance at them now and again….’

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After a very pleasant lunch break, with picnics eaten in the sunshine, and a chance to discover more about the other visitors – who included players from Helen Hooker’s Thames Valley Recorder Orchestra, a mother and daughter partnership from HRS who had returned that day from an Italian music tour, and a young Parisian player staying in England for the summer – we revisited all 3 pieces, but decided to drop the 4th movement of the Whitby suite in the interests of quality over quantity. After tea and a slice of celebration cake, it was time for the end-of-day concert, given for a small but select audience of family and friends. And then the day was done. My F fingering benefited enormously from the day, and I only wish I could fit in regular membership of the group to my timetable. Maybe one day…in the meantime, I shall look forward to the next open day.

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Thanks to all HRS members for letting us join you for the day!

Sheila Peters


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: in the Jerwood Gridshell Space at Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, Wednesday 7th July 2010

Gridshell Rear

This extraordinary building was an inspiring and fantastical setting for the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia’s ‘English Idyll’, a tribute to England and The English Countryside. This performance as part of Chichester Festivities 2010 showcased works by quintessentially English composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and George Butterworth.

Officially opened in 2002, the Jerwood Gridshell Space normally provides a vast workshop space where historic timber-framed buildings can be laid out for conservation and repair. It is a breathtaking structure of slender oak laths, latticed and lined, combining innovative design with superb craftsmanship. It is one of a very small number of gridshell structures in Britain and its design and method of construction are unique, emulating in a contemporary way, techniques used in the traditional framed buildings restored elsewhere in the Museum.

In 2008, as part of ‘architecture 08’, composer Peter Copley presented his ‘Gridshell Symphonies’ here, a work for four trombones and a string quartet, designed to ‘seduce an audience into subtly interacting and engaging with an architectural space’. The composition used a spatial plan in the way it was performed with the trombonists arranged in an arc around the string quartet.

An orchestra of recorders, while it does not does not possess the cutting timbre and volume of a trombone quartet, has guile and charm in spades and, as always ‘seduces’ any audience with its unexpected sweet sonority. HRS players were also arranged in a single wide arc, allowing the generous acoustic to play interesting games with the interplay of some parts. In the very demanding part, playing of William Byrd’s Fantasia à 6 no 2, some normally familiar musical clues became lost in the ether and caused some concern as they casually drifted across the arc from the high to the low end in a manner more loose and cavalier than is usual. The players certainly had to ‘interact with the architectural space’, even if the audience did not!

We all loved playing there and felt privileged to have been invited to enjoy a very different type of ‘cathedral concert’ experience, for it was just like playing in a vast wooden cathedral which possessed a fusion of surprising sensory responses.

Gridshell Front

This picture taken from the entrance through the trees gives no suggestion of the vast space behind it until the visitor passes through the doors into the area beyond. HRS and the Gridshell Space were a brilliant combination of identity and individuality. We would like to thank the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum for the opportunity to play there, and even more thanks to the small but perfectly formed appreciative audience who made our evening so special.

Penny Smith (for HRS)


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: at Rookesbury Park School, Wickham, Saturday 20th March 2010

‘Something wonderful happened at Rookesbury Park School on the evening of the 20th March 2010. Nine Rookesbury pupils aged between 7 and 12 joined with the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia in a concert of varied and exhilarating music. After many weeks of intensive practice, our pupils played their recorders with confidence and skill, playing their part in an excellent programme of music much appreciated by the large audience.’ Mac Brown - Head of Music at Rookesbury Park School

After a popular and successful pilot venture in 2008 with St Alban’s School, Havant, HRS decided to ‘Adopt-a-School’ on a regular basis, so this year it was the turn of Rookesbury Park School, Wickham.

The Grand Plan is to involve local young recorder players in a concert with HRS so they can learn, not only about the joy of playing the recorder in a large group and with a variety of other recorders, but also to experience meeting the challenges and disciplines of concert preparation.

Over the second half of the Spring Term, the pupils all threw themselves into the spirit of the task and arrived at school very early one day a week in order to rehearse with HRS’s Musical Director, Christopher Burgess. The children were positive and responsive, even to the point of doing practice between rehearsals.

The three older pupils who have already been learning the essential discipline of team-work in group playing each played descant, treble and tenor recorders to good effect and gave the younger players a sympathetic lead.

The concert programme was beautifully designed to accommodate the youngsters (who were thrilled at the presence of ‘a real live composer’ - Steve Marshall - whose arrangement of ‘St Louis Tickle’ was performed for the first time by HRS that evening). Their 6 concert items were ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, ‘We Hate Brussels Sprouts’, ‘Come and Dance with Me’, ‘Hoe Laat Is’t?’, ‘Rosa’ and ‘A Wheen o’Whustles’.

In the second half, after sumptuous refreshments in the school’s beautiful dining room, the children weren’t the only ones who were stunned by the electrifying playing of Helen Hooker performing her surprise cadenza in ‘Purple Neon’. Jaws dropped and eyes popped as Helen wound her way through a fantastic confection of musical gems in her cadenza which included a quick burst of the Rookesbury Park School song.

From everyone’s viewpoint, it was a very exciting and energetic programme and, as always, the audience was taken completely by surprise at the sound of a large recorder orchestra in full blow. The opening ‘Gopak’ caused a gasp of astonishment; and for those who had never heard a recorder orchestra before, Chris’s clever introduction to the instruments from the contrabass upwards via Dennis Bloodworth’s lovely arrangement of ‘Moonlight Serenade’ was a master stroke.

‘At the end of the evening,’ wrote Mac Brown, ‘the Director of the Sinfonia paid tribute to the performance of the children, saying that they were a great credit to the school.’

HRS would like to express their thanks to Rookesbury Park School for their warm welcome and wonderful hospitality, and to Steve and Ann Marshall for coming all the way from Mayhill to be part of the musical experience. We are all very much looking forward to working with –and encouraging - young players in our next school ‘Adoption’. Penny Smith (HRS)


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‘Inside Out’ –The Players’ Review. Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia at St Faith's Church, Havant. Sunday 6th December 2009

Last Sunday, the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia pushed the season off to a great start by performing their Yuletide celebration concert in St Faith’s Parish Church, Havant. They always feel that, once the St Faith’s concert is done and dusted, Christmas has really begun. Normally, special guests are invited to review HRS concerts, but this year, the players decided to create their own review of last Sunday’s performance with an ‘inside out’ approach, so each paragraph is a contribution, either from one of the sections of the orchestra or from remarks heard during the interval.

'We always enjoy playing at St Faith’s. Not only is the acoustic comfortably resonant for the recorders, but the Parish welcome is always warm.'

'Warmth was a bit of a feature this year as the heating arrangements in the church have undergone quite a radical change. Wooden recorders are particularly sensitive to the cold, so it was lovely to play in a comfortable environment.'

'Another thing we appreciated was the large and responsive audience. Whenever we had a moment to look out at them, we saw a sea of smiling faces. What a great turn-out there was on such a grim night. The parish workers had done a wonderful PR job for HRS.'

'As the popularity of HRS grows, the lack of time between concerts certainly makes us focus very hard on what we are doing as none of us wants to appear unprofessional or slapdash and have the Musical Director on our case.'

'We love it when the audience gasps at the initial sound that we make, because it is never what they are expecting. They are always astonished, and that is one of the best moments of the concert.'

'Probably one of the most memorable moments of the concert was during Ian Farquhar’s Christmas Fantasia no3. Just as we came to the end of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, the West door blew open with a crash that shook the building. Everyone remained composed and carried on playing; but we were all wondering whether Emmanuel had, indeed, arrived.'

'One of my pupils said, ‘I was a bit reluctant to come, but as you are my tutor, I thought I should support you. But I am SO surprised and am now a fan. I have never heard or seen recorders played like this. I loved White Christmas.’'

'Another audience member said ‘It was a really good concert. I really like your conductor...his banter helps to make the concert. It is an amazingly professional group.’'

‘I really loved the Seaport Jump.’

‘The concert was a wonderful mix of styles of music – most definitely something for everyone. O Nata Lux (Thomas Tallis) played from the back of the church was haunting and beautiful. There was stillness in the audience that showed they were really ‘in the moment.'

'As one young lad said to me at the interval, ‘Congratulations – I think you’re brilliant.’' (Let’s hope that he will be one of our future players.)

Collated by Penny Smith (Great Bass)


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: Community Centre, Colden Common, Saturday 14th November 2009

On the windiest day of the year, as southerly gales raged outside, an intrigued audience took refuge inside this large hall to hear high quality wind playing from the 26-strong Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia under the baton of their Musical Director Christopher Burgess and led by Assistant Musical Director, Helen Hooker.

This was a varied concert of music old and new, some arranged by local resident and contrabass player, Mary Steele. Without any preamble, the Sinfonia drew us into its musical ambience with Paul Clark’s charming arrangement of Giles Farnaby’s Lord Zouches’s Mask. The ensemble effect was instantly captivating, with a good musical balance from bass to soprano recorders, each section clearly distinguishable.

Elgar’s Chanson de Matin is normally played by the strings of an orchestra but here it was translated to the wiles of wind instruments in an arrangement by Denis Bloodworth, conductor of the London Recorder Orchestra. All this prepared us for what many perhaps consider where wind instruments really belong, namely the 16th and 17th centuries. But even though orchestras like HRS are really a very recent creation, they adapt well to the music of grander times as demonstrated by another set of Denis Bloodworth arrangements of Popular Renaissance Dances, by Praetorius, Susato, Demantius and Voelckel. To this reviewer, the Courante 1 by Michael Praetorius was a good vehicle, illustrating the disciplined and melodic playing of the Sinfonia, filling the hall with the sound of a well-tempered organ.

Particularly novel, was Mary Steele’s first arrangement of the evening. I had heard the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana at Winchester Operatic Society’s production in the same week but here it was again translated into a haunting version for recorders.

Definitely challenging was the Concerto Grosso Op. 84 composed in 2004 by the Australian composer Richard Peter Maddox. The very complex first movement was admirably played by Charlie Raines and Jodie Maspero who showed their skill in negotiating the intricate rhythms before embarking on the more melodic second and third movements.

This led us to the Fantasia on the Dargason, another arrangement by Mary Steele, from Holst’s St Paul’s Suite composed while he was music master at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. This wind version of the finale with its continual round of the melody set a cracking pace and proved a very popular item to take us to the interval, after which Director, Christopher Burgess, brought us back with the second Elgar offering of the evening, the less well-known Chanson de Nuit - string music again translated into a very different but equally melodic wind sound from the group.

Mirror Ball by Andrew Challinger again presented a challenge, if you’ll excuse the pun. Perhaps that was to be expected from the man who runs workshops for the Society of Recorder Players. It was a tough piece to perform, but one that conveyed a pastoral mood of flowing melodies.

Mary Steele’s last arrangement of the evening was of Mendelssohn’s Cornelius March, written in 1841 to celebrate the visit of the painter Peter Cornelius to Berlin where the composer was in residence. This, despite its attractive melodies, is not very well known in the musical repertoire and deserves to be heard more often.

Three Beatles arrangements for wind orchestra ended the evening. We all know Eleanor Rigby, Michelle and When I’m 64 - or do we? It was rumoured that some players in HRS were too young to have heard of the Beatles, but that didn’t stop them playing these new modern classics with obvious relish!

Altogether, this was a delightful and cheerful evening which left everyone wanting more from the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia under their enthusiastic director, Christopher Burgess.

Robin Worman


Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia: “South Country Secrets” at Bishops Waltham, Weds 8th July 2009

Like many of the people crowding into St Peter’s Church, Bishop’s Waltham on a recent sunny evening in July, I’d had little experience of recorders beyond the tooting and squeaking of primary school recorder practice. I might even have ventured the notion that that the recorder is an excellent first step towards a more grown-up instrument, a view that enrages musical director Chris Burgess, who founded the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia in 1995. The Sinfonia’s “South Country Secrets,” part of Bishop Waltham’s Festival Week, dispelled all such preconceptions, giving a striking and accomplished demonstration of the power, complexity and versatility of the recorder in all its shapes and sizes. The orchestra is striking in appearance: 25 strong, with instruments ranging from a tiny nine-inch sopranino to two 6-foot contra-basses towering over their players.   The audience was entranced from the moment a player on stage blithely struck up Sumer is icumen in, while other players ambled forward and joined in as though gathering casually on the village green.

The music, much of it with strong local connections and based on traditional folk tunes, was interspersed with readings of poetry and prose evoking an idealised rural England. This sense of an idyllic, vanished pastoral, often set against the change and loss of two world wars, perhaps owes more to longing than experience, but is no less powerful for that.  The spirit was here reflected in music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and Daryl Runswick, with readings from Siegfried Sassoon and William Cobbett, among others. There were, however, some more modern and experimental pieces in this varied programme. Richard Peter Maddox’s Concerto Grosso Opus 84 woke us up with its unexpected leaps and initially startling discords, resolving into intriguing harmonies. Two gifted young soloists, Charlie Raines and Jodie Maspero, excelled in this challenging and ultimately satisfying work.

It is a pleasure and a luxury to hear good poetry spoken aloud, and Maggi Saxby’s readings were mellifluous and engaging. Maggi’s dramatic and humorous declamation of Daniel Pettiward’s Church Fete and Chesterton’s The Rolling English Road delighted the audience.  Music and poetic readings set each other off beautifully, culminating in Steve Marshall’s Out of the Wood of thoughts. This haunting composition blended a sequence of Edward Thomas’s glorious poems on rural life with musical reflection. I had never heard anything quite like it. The variety of sound was remarkable, from familiar folk tunes, with their bubbling melodies, through the dancing rhythms of Giles Farnaby’s Jacobean pieces, to the jauntiness of Portsmouth and Fantasia on the Dargason, with their echoes of hornpipe and fairground steam organ.

Characterised by Chris Burgess as “a combination of nostalgia and rumbustiousness,” the concert celebrated courage, good cheer, and the much-underestimated recorder. The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia is highly professional and wonderfully entertaining. Catch them if you can!

The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia at the Chapel of the Hospital of St Cross, Winchester on Saturday 9th May 2009

On Saturday, 9th May, HRS was invited to play a charity concert at the Hospital of St Cross to support the Mayor of Winchester’s charities (The Isle of Wight Air Ambulance, The Rowans Hospice and The Boy Scout Association). HRS, led by Helen Hooker and conducted by their musical director Christopher Burgess, opened the programme with Lady Zouche’s Maske, a short piece by Giles Farnaby, arranged by Paul Clark. As the Maske began, the sound filled the building, and it was immediately obvious that HRS was going to do justice to the exquisite setting and the magnificent acoustics. The second item, Samuel Barber’s Adagio arranged for recorder orchestra by John Hawkes was originally written for strings. This is a difficult number for recorders to play convincingly because of the abundance of long sustained notes; but HRS managed it well and produced a very moving sound. In Nomine a 6 followed, an appealing and sweet-sounding piece for strings by Henry Purcell, arranged by Chris Burgess.   

The last piece before the interval, Steve Marshall’s ‘Symphony No 1’, had four movements.   Helen Hooker took over the conductor’s baton and Chris joined the treble section.   The first movement was full of complicated timings and rhythms and HRS did well to hold it all together.   Seeming to come from nowhere, the second movement’s beautiful and haunting melody - which emerged from the silence as a poignant solo on great bass - was taken up and developed by the other instruments in turn. The jolly scherzo and energetic finale which began with a sinuous slow section and built to an impressive finish both demanded plenty of concentration and vigour from performers and conductor alike with everyone working at full stretch. The interval was taken in the evening sunshine in the beautiful garden full of late spring flowers and shrubs, plus a glass of wine – lovely!  

Chris once again took up the baton for the second half of the concert beginning with Fantasia di sei soprani by William Daman. Six groups of tenors, with basses playing a holding line underneath, were arranged along the back of the chapel. Their playing produced a wonderfully warm sound; an early version of ‘surround sound’.    Giles Farnaby’s Five Pieces, arranged by Daryl Runswick / CB broke the soothing mood and created a pleasing variety of sounds reflecting different emotions and feelings.

Lachrimae Tango, Andrew Melville’s rhythmical and swinging rendition of John Dowland’s beautiful Lachrimae Pavan was next on the programme, followed by Midsummer Meadow Suite by Lyndon Hilling. This collection of pieces illustrates three unconnected stories, all of which are related to Northampton.  The first movement depicts the meeting and clashing of the two armies of York and Lancaster at The Battle of Northampton; in the second, Becket’s Well, with sounds of the steady dripping of water, the rolling sea and the screaming of seagulls during his escape to France, the solo and ensemble players evoked a powerful picture of the dark days of Thomas Becket’s imprisonment and escape from the clutches of Henry II. Finally, they romped through Northampton Carnival, a merry and enchanting piece which cleverly reflected the current ethnic mix of the town and featured some nifty playing from the bass department.    The final item was the instantly recognized and much loved The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by George Handel, arranged by Paul Clark. Following much applause from the appreciative audience HRS were persuaded to play a swinging encore: a version of the well known 1920s jazz tune Sweet Georgia Brown.

I have heard the HRS play many times before and this was one of their best performances yet in a perfect setting. Graham Smith.


The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Rowner, 21st March 2009

The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia opened their concert in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Rowner, with a most impressive performance of O Nata Lux de Lumine by Thomas Tallis, arranged for recorder orchestra by Chris Burgess, Musical Director of HRS. During the evening his introductions and comments were extremely helpful for the audience’s better enjoyment of the performances. The ensemble playing and tuning were admirable throughout and the balance of sound which has obviously been well nurtured over the years at no time during the evening hinted at a loss of quality. Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was very stately and well controlled for the most part, although in the fast and recalcitrant semiquaver passages there were small moments of escape from the discipline that was prevalent in all the other pieces. Daryl Runswick’s variations on the tune Southwell was skilfully performed by the players, who dealt with the changes in time and rhythm with aplomb. (This was my personal favourite in the first half of the concert.) Lyndon Hilling’s Midsummer Meadow Suite had delightful outer movements in a traditional musical idiom, but the second movement, ‘Becket’s Well’ with its extraordinary dissonances, sounds of dripping water and flying seagulls proved a step too far for some members of the audience. The first half of the evening closed with Andrew Melville’s witty and exhilarating Tango arrangement of the John Dowland’s beautiful Lachrimae.

In the second half, Helen Hooker, Deputy Musical Director and leader of HRS took over the baton to conduct Symphony No.1 by Steve Marshall. The second movement had a wonderful haunting melody which was lyrically interpreted by the solo instrumentalists, and the contrasting dynamics and skilful playing of motifs and phrases which were passed between sections of the orchestra were very firmly handled. In this imaginative and evocative audience-pleasing piece, Steve Marshall has cleverly capitalized on the diverse sounds and qualities of the full range of recorders in the orchestra. Helen’s own arrangement of Herb Hendler and Ralf Flanagan’s Hot Toddy which included jazzy solos by Sue Newman (treble) and Chris Burgess (descant) was an attention-grabbing curtain raiser to the final pieces in the concert. Snappy and attractive, the swing style of the music influenced audience and orchestra alike. Moira Usher’s arrangement of Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien was stylish and effective with deftly handled melodies and countermelodies. Denis Bloodworth’s foot-tapping arrangement of Sweet Georgia Brown ended the programme and we were treated to a very convincing Bloodworth version of Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade as an encore.

It was a most enjoyable evening, and it was so good to hear a balanced ensemble of (almost) the full range of recorders. John Witham.


The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia at Christmas, Saturday 6th December 2008 at St Faith’s Church, Havant

The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia kicked off the Christmas season on Old Christmas Eve – Saturday December 6 – in St Faith’s Church Havant. Steve Marshall’s arrangement of My Lady Carey’s Dompe provided the traditional “early music” (should that be spelled “musicke”?) sound which tends to be associated both with recorders and with Christmas, and established the mood of the evening. The acoustic, like that of many churches, tends to favour the upper sonorities which can reinforce any piercing quality in a wayward recorder, but we knew from the first notes that the excellent tuning of the Sinfonia was going to keep us firmly in the comfort zone. There was a wide variety of music, much of it Christmassy either by content or association – Daryl Runswick’s Gloucestershire Wassail Variations, Greg Lewin’s arrangement of the Pearsall In dulci jubilo, Praetorius’ Resonet in Laudibus (pure Classic FM-type relaxation for the audience in this, with the skilful solos of Helen Hooker, Jodie Maspero, Caitlin McHale and Charlie Raines) and some of the seasonal lollipops such as White Christmas (arranged by Denis Bloodworth) and Jingle Bells – another arrangement by Steve Marshall to end the concert. Two of the pieces were arrangements by members of the Sinfonia; Mary Steele’s arrangement of Whence is that goodly fragrance followed Helen Hooker’s Hot Toddy, which Helen herself conducted while the usual conductor, Chris Burgess, provided a jazzy solo. These shorter items were balanced by three more substantial pieces: Steve Marshall’s A Celtic Cluster, Anne Martin’s arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Grosso, and Alan Davis’ version of Warlock’s Capriol Suite (published in 2007, and the third arrangement for recorders of this popular piece). The Vaughan Williams was a demanding play, confidently presented, and its contrasting moments of close harmony and large-scale movement were extremely effective. Helen Hooker’s precision on the sopranino and on the rarely-encountered garklein flötlein gave additional colour in the Capriol Suite. Considering the usual pressure on concert attendances during the festive season, the audience in Havant was encouragingly large and certainly enthusiastic, which is no more than this concert, with its very well-played and varied music, with more than a touch of humour adding to the general feel-good factor, deserved. DB

HRS at The Pump House Theatre, Watford, Saturday 15th November 2008

Drawing on more that four hundred years of music, the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia (HRS) programme promised something for everyone. We were not disappointed. From the start, the rhythmic precision of the twenty three players (conducted by Christopher Burgess) gave a crisp, solid base to the dance movements of their first major piece, ‘The Capriol Suite’, while retaining the individual dance-like quality of each movement. The slower, more lyrical ‘Pavane’ and ‘Pieds en l’air’ were beautifully sonorous, the players moving as one. A variety of wooden and plastic instruments were used, but they blended well and the tuning throughout, and on the final chords, was impressive. Vaughan Williams was well represented with his ‘Concerto Grosso for Strings’, arranged by Anne Martin. I thought that this transferred really well to wind instruments. We also heard his lively ‘English Folk Song Suite’. This was in marked contrast to Steve Marshall’s tricky and energetic ‘Celtic Cluster’.
Helen Hooker, who also leads the orchestra, conducted her own delightfully sleazy arrangement of ‘Hot Toddy’. However, for me, the highlight of the concert was William Daman’s ‘Fantasia’ played solely on tenors grouped around the audience .This was a truly wonderful, warm sound which sent the small but very appreciative audience into a dull autumn evening with a satisfied glow. Eileen Troughton

HRS at the United Reformed Church, Gosport, Sunday 29th June 2008 - for The Gosport and Fareham Music Society

On a warm Gosport afternoon I joined the audience in the United Reformed Church for a concert by the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia presented by Gosport and Fareham Music Society (with a promise of local strawberries and cream afterwards). Under their conductor, Chris Burgess, the HRS began with Pachelbel's Canon, arranged by Kunst, which was followed by Steve Marshall's 'Four Medieval Tunes'. I haven't heard a Marshall yet that I didn't like. These tunes maintain a mediaeval atmosphere with a modern feel. I particularly enjoyed Ja Nuns Hons Pris with Helen Hooker's sweet sopranino and the jolly Ductia. It was all change for the players as they rearranged themselves to perform Canzone Quarta by Giovanni Priuli on Tenors and Basses, followed by Fantasia di sei Soprani by William Daman, blessedly arranged for 6 Tenors, which produced a lovely timbre. To end the first half, Helen Hooker was the descant soloist in Steve Marshall's second Recorder Concerto, which he wrote for her. The first movement was an energetic Allegro with strong rhythms, followed by a beautiful Largo with the descant solo floating over the orchestra. The final Vivace conjured up an image of Gene Kelly with jazzy rhythms and wonderful solo flourishes to the end. Bravo to Helen and the HRS. The composer was in the audience and was delighted to hear his work from the front. In previous performances he played in the orchestra. The second half began with three canzons for two choirs on opposite sides of the church: Canzon 28 by Giovanni Gabrieli, Canzon "La Foccara" by Claudio Bramieri and Canzon Septini Toni by Gabrieli. Next, Moira Usher's terrific arrangement of Ballet Egyptian by Alexandre Luigini brought smiles all round the audience (probably trying to banish images of The Two Ronnies). Chris took the Allegro non Troppo at a scintillating speed, with some great playing from HRS. I loved the tone in the Allegretto. Dennis Bloodworth's popular arrangement of Elgar's Chanson de Matin was a gentle interlude followed by Vaughan Williams’ Folk Song Suite, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of his death. The Concert ended with Colonel Bogey by Kenneth J. Alford. I play the HRS recording of this in my car. There was, of course, an encore - Old John's Jig by Steve Marshall. This was a very full programme in a hall with a sound-soaking acoustic, difficult for the performers but not obvious to the listeners; and the audience was very appreciative.  Frances Kelson

HRS at The Village Hall, Fair Oak, Saturday 17th May 2008 - for St Thomas’ Handshake to Kware

The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia, led by Helen Hooker and conducted by their musical director, Christopher Burgess, played an inspired programme of traditional favourites and new musical surprises for ‘St. Thomas’ Handshake to Kware’ at Fair Oak Village Hall on Saturday, May 17th. St Thomas’ parishioners have a close connection with the charity to provide education and health care for people in the Kware slum district of SE Nairobi.  Since the project began in 1996, two schools and a small health centre have been established and these continue to be supported by charitable donations.  The HRS concert helped to raise a further £1000 towards the new school and hospital which are under construction. One of the great benefits of a charity concert such as this is the opportunity for the recorder to touch people whose knowledge and appreciation of the instrument is sketchy at best; hostile at worst.  It is with great pride that HRS values the positive and appreciative remarks from members of the audience, many of whom, until hearing the polished performance of HRS, had openly regarded the recorder with suspicion, even derision. As the orchestra began their opening number, George Frideric Handel’s ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’, the listeners  were  reported as being ‘stunned by the richness of the sound and the dexterity of the players’.  They found it ‘hard to believe that recorders could sound like that’.  One of the biggest hits was Denis Bloodworth’s wonderful arrangement of Glen Miller’s ‘Moonlight Serenade’, featuring the impressive solo playing of HRS’s star performer, Helen Hooker.

HRS at St Alban’s School, West Leigh, Havant, Saturday 8th March 2008 - For St Alban’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations

It was a thrilling chance for pupils from St Alban’s C of E Primary School to play with some of the best in the business.  Seven girls joined the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia, one of the top recorder orchestras in the country, for a special concert at the school. Head teacher, Mrs Alice Woodhead said, “They perform only four or five times a year at venues such as Portsmouth Cathedral and Romsey Abbey.  St Alban’s is the first school in which they have performed. We were thrilled that the Sinfonia suggested that some of our own players join the orchestra for part of the concert. The event was very successful with over 100 parents attending. (See photographs of St Alban’s pupils on the ‘HRS Pictures’ page). (Taken from Pompey Chimes July/August 2008)
Comments by the children:
“Fantastic”; “Incredible”; “Lovely”; “Dazzling”; “Scary”; “Brilliant”; “Calming”; “Amazing”; “Skilful”; “Joyful”; “Peaceful”; “Fabulous”.

Concert at Holy Trinity Church, Bosham as part of the Chichester Festivities, 2007

“… The music ranged from the 16th to the 20th centuries with Elgar featuring strongly in the 150th year of his birth. The musical director and conductor was Christopher Burgess. He used one 16th century piece before and after the interval with the musicians in new locations the second time to produce a remarkably different sound for the audience…. If more young recorder players could have listened to the concert last month they would surely have been surprised and inspired by what the Sinfonia achieved.” Eric Hinkley “Bosham Life” August 2007:8.

Concert at St John’s Chapel, Chichester, May 2007

“…some wonderful music in distinctive style. … The Sinfonia is fortunate to include some exceptionally talented young musicians … a joyous duet which was warmly received by audience and players alike. Helen Hooker, who sets us all a fine example of excellence, dazzled us with her playful and witty sopranino cadenza in Lance Eccles’ “Purple Neon”, raising many smiles from the audience and groans of admiration from the orchestra.” “Sinfonia News” Summer 2007.

St. Patrick’s Day concert at Holy Trinity Church, Winchester, March 2007

“… an enthusiastic and supportive audience was treated to a broad range of orchestral music exuberantly performed by the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia. … The lilting Irish music lifted the spirits and energised both players and listeners with its jaunty melodies and exhilarating rhythms. …  As a complete contract of style, mood and construction, the orchestra moved onto William Byrd’s 6 part Fantasia No 2, one item from HRS’s second CD, “A Very English Sound”, which was featured on Radio 3 last October – beautiful fine textured linear movement in a wash of wonderful sounds. … Congratulations to The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia and Christopher Burgess and to the organiser of this delightful evening.”  “Sinfonia News” Summer 2007.

Concert at Hawley Parish Church, March 2006

“… I attended this concert not really knowing what to expect or what sounds I was going to hear. …. I was quite amazed to see the size and range of instruments that make up a recorder orchestra. … I was very impressed with the repertoire. … Elgar certainly works well for the recorder and HRS performed the three works well. The telling one was “Nimrod” from the “Enigma Variations”. I felt that HRS did this work proud. I certainly enjoyed my afternoon and meeting members of HRS and I am more than ever convinced that the Elgar Education Programme Partnership is all the better for HRS’s membership.” Martyn Marsh “Sinfonia News” Summer 2006.
“The Recorder Magazine” Spring 2004: 30.

Concert at Boxgrove Priory, July 2005

“A delightful summer evening, a perfect setting and the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia provided an excellent concert for the enthusiastic audience in the Priory Church. Impressive was the attention to detail and the phrasing and intonation of the recorder orchestra. … A first class concert in a delightful setting.” Denis Bloodworth. “The Recorder Magazine”, Autumn 2005

The HRS Visit to Leiden Autumn 2003: Concert with Blokfluitensemble Praetorius

“The combination of two recorder orchestras, one English and one Dutch, playing together in a Dutch church, with an enthusiastic Dutch audience made for an unforgettable experience for members of the Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia. … After the interval, HRS opened with the lively Gopak by Mussorgsky, to be followed by a varied programme including Byrd’s Pavan and Galliard à 6 and the “Midsummer Meadow Suite” by Lyndon Hilling, the second movement of which was greatly enhanced by having the four soloists playing from the organ loft. The march, “Colonel Bogey (Kenneth Alford arr. C. May) had the audience practically marching in the aisles. However, the pièce de resistance of the concert was undoubtedly the final item, when both orchestras combined to play the Concerto in F by Guiseppe Sammartini (arr. C Burgess and H. Hooker), with Helen Hooker as soloist. It was a great success with the audiences and a wonderful finale to both concerts. Helen’s brilliant playing certainly deserved the standing ovation at Leiden.” Gillian Kempson-Jones.

Concert at Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton, 1999

“ … a warm, rich tone that filled the concert hall. I was struck by their precision and generally tight ensemble which provided an exceptional clarity of line and texture. It really is a delight to be able to hear so clearly all that is going on in a piece. …Chris Burgess in his programming managed to avoid this pitfall [that the sound may be too unvaried]. The variety of texture in Lyndon Hilling’s beautiful “Midsummer Meadow Suite” was one such instance. The small recorder quartet employed in the haunting second movement, “Becket’s Well”, ‘eerily portraying dripping water’ is quite magical. This really is a superb suite, and beautifully played by the orchestra.” G.D Evans. “The Recorder Magazine” Summer 1999.


CD Reviews

Purchase HRS CD's from the HRS Recordings page.

CD “Parodies and Paraphrases”
“Very nice, I must say!. Quite apart from the playing, this is the best sound quality I’ve heard on a recorder orchestra CD … Well done.” Steve Marshall.

“Congratulations upon this, another excellent CD by Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia. … the taut ensemble playing is ‘spot on’ virtually throughout the programme. The opening, with Helen Hooker’s perfect intonation and virtuosic fluency is ideal.  … The performance is equally and excellently crafted, with precision of ensemble. … Nimrod really shows the lovely, lower sonority of the Sinfonia.  … I really enjoyed the whole CD.” Ian Caddy.

CD “A Very English Sound”
“… Initially for me, the most striking aspect of the recorder orchestra timbre as recorded here was the vastness of the sound. … I can sense the pleasure derived by members of the HRS performing here…. My favourite item has to be Brian Bonsor’s Farewell to Alva. This work is so typical of his style with beautifully crafted melodic lines and rich harmonies blended perfectly for recorders and here given a most engaging performance….” Adam J Dopadlik.

“… and what a good recording it is: such talented and harmonious playing. It has given hours of pleasure and last week when driving through the Kentish Weald, the Bloodworth arrangement of the Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite helped turn an unremarkable journey into a transport of delight. It’s excellent playing – thank you.” Christopher Howard.

CD “Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia”
“We have a welcome “first”: an excellent CD recording of a recorder orchestra which ably demonstrate what the recorder orchestra is all about. …. It is the use of the large bass instruments that produces the satisfying sound of the ensemble and allows for great variety of tone colour. … We are provided with over 70 minutes of music ranging from the 16th century to the present day. Much of the repertoire of the recorder orchestra consists of arrangements but the selection on this disc also includes several of the best original compositions. The intonation and ensemble playing are most impressive throughout and will help to dispel any sad thoughts the uninitiated may have about recorders!” Denis Bloodworth

“I’m absolutely bowled over by the CD, it’s magnificent. Thank you for including my father’s pieces. They have never been better played or sounded richer. Thank you also for the excellent programme notes …” Daryl Runswick.

“The clarity of playing struck me immediately in the Gopak. … It was a great pleasure to hear Scarborough Fair again and you did it justice indeed. … There is a nice balance in your sinfonia. … The combination of violin and recorder orchestra in the Sammons piece is magical and somehow gives a whole new dimension to the recorder sound. It seems to anchor it or to bring it down to earth. It’s certainly very effective. … Altogether, I found the package most appealing.” Paul Clark.