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"The Bassoon in Love"

Ensemble Chameleon

rec: Sept 30 - Oct 4, 2014, Haardt, Evangelische Kirche
Ambitus - amb 96 981 [(P) 2018] (75'23")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

?Michael Christian FESTING (1705-1752) / ?John Christopher SMITH Jr (1712-1795): On Tree top'd Hilla [4]; John Ernest GALLIARD (1687-1749): Calypso and Telemachus (If in Elizian Plains)a; Oft on the Troubled Oceana [4]; Sonata III in F [2]; Sonata IV in e minor [2]; John Frederick LAMPE (1702/03-1751): A Preservative against Love [4]; Hymn XIV [5]; Hymn XXI [5]; Hymn XXIIa [5]; The Forsaken Ladya [4]; The Wandring Lovera [4]; Luigi MERCI (Louis MERCY) (c1695-c1751): Sonata II in G, op. 3,2 [3]; Sonata VI in a minor, op. 3,6 [3]; John Christopher PEPUSCH (1667-1752): Corydona [1]; trad: Com Riggs are bonny; Lochabar; Maggy Lawder; Mary Scot; There'll never be Peace till Jamie comes hame; When she came ben she bobed

Sources: [1] John Christopher Pepusch, Six English cantatas, c1710; [2] John Ernest Galliard, Six Sonatas for the Bassoon or Violoncello with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord, 1733; [3] Luigi Merci, VI Sonate a Fagoto o Violoncello, col Basso Continuo, op. 3, c1735; [4] John Frederick Lampe, ed., Calliope, or English harmony: a collection of English and Scots songs, 1739; [5] John Frederick Lampe, Hymns on the Great Festivals and Other Occasions, 1746

Gerlinde Sämann, sopranoa; Brian Berryman, transverse flute; Ulrike Becker, cello; Jennifer Harris, bassoon; Barbara Messmer, violone; Andrea Baur, theorbo, guitar; Evelyn Laib, harpsichord

In the late baroque period the bassoon played a minor role in music life. Only a few sonatas and concertos were written, not counting the production of solo concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. The bassoon was mostly used in ensemble, especially in the basso continuo section of the orchestra. Jennifer Harris and her Ensemble Chameleon focus on the music written in England in the first half of the 18th century. It can hardly surprise that the two composers whose sonatas for bassoon and basso continuo are performed here, were of foreign birth. Since the late 17th century composers and performers from across Europe travelled to London to look for employment. Music societies - ensembles of amateurs - were highly popular and created an interesting market for new music which could be played by non-professional musicians. This also explains the flourishing of the music printing industry, one of whose most famous representatives was John Walsh.

John Ernest Galliard was born as Johann Ernst Galliard in Celle; as his last name suggests the family was originally from France. He was educated at the transverse flute and the oboe by Pierre Maréchal, a member of the court orchestra. He soon joined the orchestra himself and studied composition with Steffani and Farinelli in nearby Hanover. In 1706 the orchestra in Celle was disbanded, and Galliard travelled to London where he entered the service of Prince George of Denmark, Queen Anne's consort. He has become mainly known as a composer of secular music and as an oboist at the Queen's Theatre. In his opera Teseo of 1713 Handel included obbligato oboe parts for him. His first attempt to write for the theatre was the opera Calypso and Telemachus, on an English text. An air from this work is included here: 'If in Elizian Plains'. It was mainly due to the Italians who dominated the Queen's Theatre, that it was not successful.

Galliard's oeuvre includes several operas, masques and pantomimes as well as songs, cantatas and anthems. Among his collections of instrumental music are the sonatas recorded here, printed in 1733 as Six Sonatas for the Bassoon or Violoncello with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord. As it is not very likely that the bassoon was played by many amateurs, it is only logical that the title mentions the cello as an alternative. Most of the sonatas are in four movements; the exception is the Sonata I which Jennifer Harris recorded on a previous disc ("The Bassoon Abroad - Foreign Composers in Britain"). The Sonata III follows the model of the sonata da chiesa, whereas the Sonata IV has the structure of a sonata da camera. The latter's opening movement is in ABA form; the B section's character is indicated as allegro è staccato. The last movement is a pair of menuets.

The name Luigi Merci suggests that he was of Italian birth, but it seems more likely that he was of French origin; his name was also spelled as Mercy. The year and place of his birth are not known; we also don't know anything about his musical education. His presence in England is first documented in 1708: he took part in a public concert at Epsom, and it was written that this was the second public performance after his arrival in London. In 1718 Walsh and Hare published his Op. 1, a set of six sonatas for recorder and basso continuo. He dedicated it to James Brydges, Earl of Caernarvon (and soon to become Duke of Chandos) at Cannons, Middlesex, in whose service he was. Around 1735 a set of six sonatas came from the press as his Op. 3. Like Galliard's sonatas, they were scored for either bassoon or cello and basso continuo. Despite Mercy's apparent French roots, his sonatas are strongly Italian in style. The Sonata II is in four movements, the Sonata VI in three. The former closes with a pair of menuets, which is preceded by a movement called Ala Scotseza. This is a reference to Scotland and Scottish music.

And that brings us to the remainder of the programme which the Ensemble Chameleon recorded. It includes a number of Scottish folk songs, which are performed here instrumentally. Scottish music was very popular at the time. That is no coincidence: the 18th century saw a growing interest in folk music. That was partly inspired by the Enlightenment which was in favour of more 'naturalness'. In the case of Scotland there is an additional reason. The interest in Scottish folk music was also politically motivated. In 1707 Scotland and England became one kingdom under the name of 'Great-Britain' as a result of the Act of Union. Many Scots considered this an attempt at assimilation, at the cost of their own identity. It encouraged representatives of Scottish culture to try to keep alive or to bring back what was considered typically Scottish. In the first half of the 18th century a number of collections of Scottish songs were published. Some of these included melodies, but others only mentioned the titles of melodies to which the texts could be sung. These collections are also the sources for the arrangements by some of the major composers of the classical period, Haydn and Beethoven. In the baroque era Francesco Geminiani was one of those composers who arranged Scottish folk songs. The booklet to the present disc does not mention from which sources the songs performed here are taken.

This disc also includes some vocal music, and this is from the pen of two further composers, John Christopher Pepusch and John Frederick Lampe, both - like Galliard - of German birth. Pepusch was born in Berlin and was employed at the Prussian court in Dresden from age 14. Little is known for sure about his musical education, but as later in England he directed performances from the harpsichord it is likely that he was educated as a keyboard player, probably by an organist from Saxony. There are conflicting reports about the time he arrived in England. According to Charles Burney it was "soon after the [1688] revolution", others mention 1697. His activities after the turn of the century are well documented. It is certain that he frequented the public concerts which were organised by the coal merchant Thomas Britton. Not only Pepusch took part in the performances, but also the likes of Handel, Banister and Dubourg. Pepusch was a prolific composer: his oeuvre includes music for the stage, odes, cantatas and songs as well as sacred and instrumental music. He is also the author of some theoretical works. The cantata Corydon is from his first book of English cantatas of 1710, whose texts were written by John Hughes, who also wrote the libretto of Galliard's opera Calypso and Telemachus. As the title indicates, it is a typical exponent of the Arcadian world which was the ideal of the time.

John Frederick Lampe was born in Brunswick as Johann Friedrich Lampe; he was educated as a bassoonist and active as such in England, where he arrived in 1725 or 1726. He composed mainly music for the stage, but here we hear specimens from two different genres. The secular songs are from a collection of songs by various composers for solo voice and basso continuo, printed in 1739. They are rather simple and melodious strophic songs. The hymns, performed here instrumentally (except Hymn XXII), are from a collection of 24 Hymns on the Great Festivals and Other Occasions, which was published in 1746. These are also scored for solo voice and basso continuo. They were the result of a commission by John Wesley, after Lampe's conversion to the Methodist church.

This disc is a sequel to the previous disc of this ensemble which I have already referred to. It includes those sonatas by Galliard and Merci which were omitted in that recording. As a result, the two collections of sonatas for bassoon or cello by these two composers are now available complete on disc. Considering their quality and the fact that not that many sonatas for bassoon were written during the first half of the 18th century, that is of great importance. Jennifer Harris is an excellent interpreter, whose performances are technically immaculate and musically compelling. The other members of the ensemble deliver good support in the basso continuo or are responsible for the performances of the Scottish folk songs. I would like to specially mention here Brian Berryman. Gerlinde Sämann has a beautiful voice and her performances of Pepusch's cantata and Lampe's songs are very nice to listen to. Her English pronunciation is quite good.

It is probably typical for the state of affairs of the music industry that this recording, which dates from 2014, was only released last year. We should be glad that it has finally made its way to CD, because the repertoire and the level of music making deserves the attention of any lover of late baroque music.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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