Rowland Jones: Playing Recorder Sonatas

Anthony Rowland-Jones
Playing Recorder Sonatas: Interpretation and Technique
Oxford University Press, 1991

Reviewed by Malcolm Tattersall for The Recorder No 17, 1993.


Note (2021): Playing Recorder Sonatas has dated since it was written but has not been replaced by anything similar. I added my review to the web site in October 2005; if I had changed it then, it would be by redefining the book’s ‘target audience’ to reflect the higher standards of performance. Standards have continued to rise since then but there is still a need for books for the serious amateur.

My updated discussion of the ‘single-volume general references’ is now here.


In the last issue of this journal I discussed the single-volume general references available to the recorder player – Linde’s Recorder Player’s Handbook and the like. The serious student will eventually supplement such a work with specialised studies of repertoire, technique, composers, ornamentation and so on.

We actually had studies in ornamentation (those by Dart and Donington, for instance) before the general books, and now we are building up quite a useful range of others, such as O’Kelly on modern repertoire and van Hauwe on technique. This book, providing systematic guidance in the stylistic and technical aspects of interpretation, is a welcome addition to the collection.

Rowland-Jones uses five sonatas – by Fontana, Handel, Telemann, Lavigne and Murrill – as case studies in various aspects of interpretation, and discusses ten others – seven baroque and three modern – in less detail. They are well chosen in that they also represent a good sampling of the standard repertoire, although from that point of view another modern work would have been welcome.

One of the author’s asides identifies his target readership quite accurately: ‘Both Telemann and Schickhardt were concerned (as this book is) to raise the standards of amateur instrumentalists closer to the level of technique and commitment expected of professional players …’ (p. 139). The book will be most useful to the reasonably advanced amateur or the undergraduate student: the less competent player will not have the technical skill needed to realise the interpretative aspects Rowland-Jones discusses. The professional may find the book interesting, but it should provide them with a new perspective on familiar territory rather than opening a whole new world to them.

The advice on technique and interpretation is well suited to the intended audience: thought-provoking, but not advocating anything beyond the reader’s technical or musical understanding and not so idiosyncratic as to be likely to mislead. At the next level of readership – the professionals – I suspect that few would disagree with Rowland-Jones’ basic approach, but that few would not disagree with some specific recommendations. However, we must expect them to disagree on details: that’s what makes people musicians.

A wealth of additional material – sources, references and supplementary explanations and suggestions – is tucked away in the numerous footnotes; it’s all welcome, but the reader will find the constant need to flip to the back of the book for it rather distracting. That, however, is a minor drawback. On the whole, the book is a substantial and useful addition to the literature.

1993, added to website Oct 2005, copied here Feb 2021; links not checked, let alone updated.