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"Il vero Orfeo - Sonatas for viola da gamba by and inspired by Arcangelo Corelli"

Friederike Heumann, viola da gamba; Patrick Sepec, celloa; Eduardo Egüez, theorbob; Dirk Börner, harpsichordc, organd

rec: June 29 - July 2, 2010, Franc-Warêt, Église Saint-Rémy
Accent - ACC 24233 (© 2011) (58'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713), arr anon: Sonata III in Cabc; Sonata VI in Gabc; Sonata VIII in e minorabc; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Sonata in g minor (HWV 364b)abc; Johann SCHENCK (c1660-1712): Sonata II in a minor, op. 9,2 (adagio; vivace)abd [1]; Sonata V in e minor, op. 9,5 (adagio) [1];

Source: [1] Johann Schenck, L'Echo du Danube, op. 9, 1704

Very few composers have had such a strong influence on the course of music history as Arcangelo Corelli. His trio sonatas and concerti grossi set the standard for the respective genres. Even more influential were the twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo which in 1700 were published as his opus 5. More than 50 reprints of this set are known from the eighteenth century. The sonatas inspired other composers in their own writing of sonatas. The status of a composer can also be measured by the number of arrangements of his works. The best-known arrangements of the opus 5 sonatas are those for recorder which are and have been frequently performed and recorded in modern times. The arrangements as concerti grossi by Francesco Geminiani are also fairly well-known. Far less known is a set of arrangements for the viola da gamba, from which Friederike Heumann has taken three sonatas for this disc.

This manuscript is held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The adaptations regard the passages which were not idiomatic for the gamba; harmonious chords were expanded and the basso continuo was transposed down an octave when it came too close to the gamba part. It is not known for sure who made the arrangements. It is suggested it could be someone around Johann Schenck, which is the reason he is also represented on this disc.

Schenck was born in Germany, but moved to Amsterdam with his parents. Here he played an important role in the music scene. He composed operas and chamber music, and especially music for his own instrument, the viola da gamba. No less than five collections with music for one or two viole da gamba - mostly with basso continuo, albeit in some cases ad libitum - were printed between 1688 and 1711. In 1696 he entered the service of the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm II in Düsseldorf. This is also important in regard to Schenck's musical development. The Elector was a strong admirer of Corelli and had commissioned him to compose a concertino da cammera (which is lost). Corelli dedicated his Concerti grossi opus 8 to the Elector. It is quite possible that he also owned a copy of the Sonatas opus 5 and that Schenck may have seen them. Fact is that in 1704 Schenck published his L'Echo du Danube opus 9, a set of six sonatas for viola da gamba with and without basso continuo which show a strong influence of Italian string music. That makes the inclusion of extracts from two sonatas from this set also musically meaningful.

But it is also possible that the gamba arrangements have been constructed in France. After all, since the death of Lully who had a stranglehold on the music scene there was a growing interest in Italian music. And these adaptations mix the best of two worlds, as it were: the passionate and virtuosic Italian style and the viola da gamba as a symbol of the French taste. It was in particular useful as there were hardly any original compositions for the viola da gamba by Italian masters. Since the late 17th century the gamba had been overshadowed by the cello.

In addition to the compositions by Corelli and Schenck Friederike Heumann has included the only sonata for the gamba by George Frideric Handel. He met Corelli when he stayed in Italy, and the two worked together at several occasions. Best documented is the first performance of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione, with Corelli acting as concertmaster of the orchestra and complaining about the French character of the overture Handel had originally written. There can be little doubt that he was also influenced by Corelli, not only in his concerti grossi but also in his chamber music. In his liner-notes Fred Flassig points out how much the last movement of Handel's gamba sonata is reminiscent of Corelli. That is certainly true: the similarities between this movement and, for instance, the second allegro [track 21] of Corelli's Sonata VI in G is striking. Why it was written is not quite known, and it is even not clear whether it was meant for the gamba in the first place as it also appeared for oboe or violin. There can be little doubt that he knew Johann Schenck as he visited the Elector of Palatine in 1710.

The various pieces on the programme are interspersed by some improvisations which prepare for the following sonata. This was a wide-spread practice in the baroque era but is not frequently copied in our time. The improvisations by Dirk Börner and Eduardo Egüez are stylish and naturally lead to the following piece.

I don't need to say much about the performances. They are just wonderful, with great depth and sincerity, but also very theatrical and expressive. The style of performance is quite interesting. Let us assume these arrangements were made by a French gambist. How would he have played them: like an Italian, with fire and passion - just as Friederike Heumann plays them - or with French elegance and restraint? We won't know. I would like to hear them in a more French manner as well. But I am very happy with these interpretations which show that Corelli's sonatas can easily survive almost any arrangement. I wouldn't mind if these artists would decide to record more sonatas from this set.

N.B. Those who would like to hear more of Schenck's music for viola da gamba should look for the complete recording of his collection Le Nymphe du Rheno, op. 8, performed by Les Voix Humaines on two Naxos discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Friederike Heumann

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