musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Awakening Princesses - Peter Holtslag plays 18th-century recorders from the Bate Collection, Oxford"

Peter Holtslag, recorder; Rainer Zipperling, viola da gambaa, cellob; Elizabeth Kenny, archlutec, theorbod; Carsten Lohff, harpsichorde

rec: Feb 2011, Aumühle, Evangelische Kirche
Aeolus - AE-10186 (© 2012) (67'38")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

John BANISTER (1662-1736): A Division on a Groundad [5]; Francesco BARSANTI (c1690-1775): Sonata in g minor, op. 1,3bce [8]; Robert CARR (fl 1684-1687): Divisions upon an Italian Groundd [1]; Charles DIEUPART (c1667-c1740): Suite No. 5 in Fae [3]; John ECCLES (c1668-1735): A Division on a Groundad [6]; Godfrey FINGER (c1660-1730): A Groundad [5]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Sonata in B flat (HWV 377)b; Jacques PAISIBLE (c1656-1721): Sonata XIV in g minorbc [2]; Daniel PURCELL (c1670 - 1717): Mezenaac [4]; Johann Christian SCHICKHARDT (c1682-1762): Sonata in a minor, op. 17,3ad [7]

Sources: [1] John Carr, ed, The Delightful Companion, 1686; [2] div, Detroit Recorder Manuscript, c1700; [3] Charles Dieupart, Six suittes, 1702; [4] div, Monthly Mask of Vocal Music, 1703; [5] John Walsh, ed, The First Part of the Division Flute, 1706; [6] The Second Part of the Division Flute, 1708; [7] Johann Christoph Schickhardt, XII Sonates à une Flute & une Basse Continue, op. 17, c1712/15; [8] Francesco Barsanti, Sonatas or Solos for a Flute with a Thorough Bass, op. 1, 1724

In the early days of historical performance practice many recordings were produced in which historical instruments from museums and private collections were presented. That was useful, because many music lovers didn't know such instruments which were never heard in public and seldom used for recordings. Today there seems no need to make such recordings: everyone knows by now what a harpsichord, a clavichord, a viola da gamba or whatever instrument is and how they sound. Even so, Peter Holtslag feels that it is still necessary to make recordings with historical instruments. In his liner-notes he quotes Frans Brüggen: "So many more people now play the recorder than in centuries before that one can only be a little proud and extremely suspicious". Holtslag adds: "Dozens of recorder makers now produce so-called copies of originals, 'after' Bressan, Stanesby, Denner and their peers. (...) But such 'copies' are rarely copied exactly, not at least because of our generally adopted solutions to the problem of pitch in historical performance (...)." And he admits that "[only] in very rare instances do their instruments remind me of the originals."

Holtslag uses original instruments from the Bate-Collection which is preserved in Oxford University. The pitch is one of the issues he deals with in his extended liner-notes in the booklet of this recording. He states, after referring to the research by the American oboist and musicologist Bruce Haynes: "Since woodwind instruments rise in pitch with continued playing, the conclusion Haynes arrives at seems sound: we can presume original pitches c. 5Hz lower than the present sounding pitch of a given historical instrument".

This project of recording with original historical instruments is not easy as Holtslag explains. He compares the instruments with "princesses" who are "fragile, delicate and temperamental. Some were less gentle princesses than crotchety elderly ladies in their outlook on life". Recorders can change from one moment to the other: one recorder was playable for no more than a couple of minutes. Some have small damages which restrict the playing. However, the qualities of these recorders are well worth all these troubles. It is interesting to hear the differences between the instruments and the pictures in the booklet are also nice to look at.

Holtslag plays six different instruments in four different pitches and by four different builders. The most unusual instrument is a bass recorder which obviously is not often used in solo repertoire. Holtslag plays it in the divisions by Banister and Eccles; in A Ground by Gottfried Finger the bass recorder is used in the basso continuo, with the viola da gamba playing the divisions. The disc ends with another set of divisions, by Robert Carr; here Holtslag plays a treble recorder by a certain Urquhart, probably a Scottish builder, a very precious instrument with a beautiful sound but very difficult to play. Another rare instrument is the treble recorder of around 1730 from the Dutch builder Robert Wijne. This is the only non-English instrument, and it is demonstrated in the only piece in the programme which was written by a composer who was never in England: Johann Christoph Schickhardt.

This bears witness to the way the programme has been put together. Holtslag wanted to make sure that it was at least plausible that the various pieces could have been played at the instruments he uses. The scoring of the basso continuo is also differentiated: just a cello (Handel), viola da gamba with either archlute or theorbo and harpsichord with cello or viola da gamba. The programme includes several little-known pieces, and various composers are no household names either. This, combined with the technically perfect and musically compelling performances, makes this disc a winner. It is a highly interesting and important document of the rich history of one of today's most popular instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Peter Holtslag

CD Reviews