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"Solos for a German Flute - Chamber Music by Handel and Dieupart"
Les Buffardins

rec: [n.d.], Haarlem, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Accent - ACC 24194 (© 2008) (61'53")

Charles/François DIEUPART (c1670-c1740): Ouverture in e minor [1]; Ouverture in G [1]; Ouverture in b minor [1]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Sonata in e minor (HWV 359b); Sonata in G, op. 1,5 (HWV 363b); Sonata in b minor, op. 1,9 (HWV 367b)

(Sources: [1] Charles Dieupart, Six Suittes de Clavessin divisées ..., c1701)

Frank Theuns, transverse flute; Martin Bauer, viola da gamba; Siebe Henstra, harpsichord

From the end of the 17th century England, and especially London, developed into one of the main centres of music in Europe. Performers and composers from the continent travelled to London to look for opportunities to play and to write music to be performe during public concerts or to be sold to amateur musicians. Both the French and the Italian style found their supporters in England, and that explains that composers from both traditions settled there.

The harpsichordist and violinist François or Charles Dieupart - he used both Christian names -, is a representative of the first. He was born in Paris around 1670. The Six Suittes from which three overtures are played on this disc were dedicated to the Countess of Sandwich who around 1700 went to France probably was his pupil. Shortly after the turn of the century he settled in London. Here he accompanied the Italian violinist Gasparo Visconti in a public performance of violin sonatas by Corelli. It proves how little the traditional antagonism between the French and Italian styles meant in London. Further proof of this is that he also played in Handel's opera orchestra.

The Six Suittes were published around 1701 by Étienne Roger in Amsterdam. In order to increase sales he offered several options: the suites could be played on the harpsichord alone, or with a treble instrument. Dieupart favoured the recorder as he has indicated in the score. After all it was still a popular instrument in England. But he also took care to write his suites in such a way that they could be played by the transverse flute, becoming more and more fashionable in those days. In this recording only the overtures from the Suites Nos 1 (originally in A, here transposed to G), 3 (in b minor) and 4 (in e minor) are played.

Handel's chamber music is something like a mess, as a Handel scholar once stated. Often the authenticity can hardly be established, pirate editions were printed which led to 'corrected editions' in which new sonatas were printed, or movements replaced, or movements from various sonatas put together. And in addition to that it is often unclear for exactly which instrument Handel has written his sonatas. In the programme notes Thomas Leconte tries to explain in detail where the various sonatas on this disc come from, what there original forms were etcetera.

The picture of Handel's chamber music may be complicated, apparently the musicians have thought: let's make it even more complicated. All sonatas by Handel have been extended by adding movements from other sonatas. Thomas Leconte uses Handel's own practices as an excuse but interpreters are not the composer. He can do with his own music whatever he likes, they can't. In addition, historical performance practice is about copying instruments and performance styles, not the bad habits of 18th century publishers.

Be that as it may, let's see what the practical results are. In general I would say that the additions lack logic and don't seem always well-judged. In the Sonata in b minor, op. 1,9 (HWV 367b) a movement from the Sonata in a minor (HWV 374) is included, the first from the collection Six solos of sonatas by Handel and some other composers which John Walsh printed in 1730. The whole movement is played on the viola da gamba, which is rather strange in a sonata for transverse flute. Even less satisfying is the inclusion of a bourrée angloise in the Sonata in G, op. 1,5 (HWV 363b). The sonata is a reworking of a sonata for oboe which is found in a manuscript copy in the library of the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels. The same manuscript contains another oboe sonata which contains this bourrée angloise. It is played here as the B part of the bourrée, and it is again played on the viola da gamba. And again I find this unsatisfying making the sonata as a whole a little unbalanced.

A lack of balance is even more obvious in the last sonata on this disc, the Sonata in e minor (HWV 359b). It is a rather short sonata with four movements, and here the whole lasts just more than 7 minutes. But with the addition of two movements, the presto from the Sonata in e minor (HWV 379) and the minuet from the Sonata in e minor (HWV 375), it is more than doubled in time, the minuet taking almost 6 minutes. I find this rather extraordinary, as the fact that half of the minuet is performed as a solo on the harpsichord.

Having said all that I hasten to add that the performances are very good. The tempi are always spot on, and the players are not afraid to play fast movements really fast. They also show a strong sense of rhythm, which makes one feel the dance rhythms very clearly. The three overtures by Dieupart are also given fine performances, and worthwhile additions to the programme. I would like to hear the complete collection in this kind of performance some day.

The instrument Frank Theuns uses makes this disc truly authentic, in that he plays a copy of a flute made by Bressan - also originally from France, called Pierre Jaillard -, who was the leading maker of recorders, transverse flutes and oboes in England at the time of Dieupart and Handel.

My critical remarks not withstanding I recommend this disc as it contains outstanding performances of first-rate music. The recording and the booklet are up to the usual Accent standard. Only the producer has forgotten to mention the exact recording dates.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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