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Recorder sonatas from Germany

[I] "Caffe-Hauß Zimmermann"
Anne-Suse Enßle, recorder; Reinhard Führer, harpsichord
rec: Feb 10 - 13, 2019, Naturns (I), Prokulus Museum
Audax Records - ADX 13719 (© 2019) (67'46")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Sonata in a minor; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Jesus, meine Zuversicht (BWV 728); Sonata in F (after BWV 1033, 596 & 817); Trio super Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 649); Trio super Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 664); François COUPERIN (1668-1733): 6e Ordre in B flat (rondeau Les Bergeries); Nouveau Concert No. 6 in B flat; Johann Gottlieb GOLDBERG (1727-1756): Sonata in C (after DürG 13 & BWV 1037); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonata in d minor (TWV 41,d2) (transposed to g minor)

[II] "Il Postiglione"
Laura Schmid, recorder
Ensemble D'Istinto
rec: 2017, Basel, Martinskirche
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 561 (© 2019) (74'25")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Prelude in B flatb; Sonata in D, op. 2,1; Sonata in G, op. 2,2 (transp to D); Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Sonata in d minor, op. 2,12 (ciaccona; transp to G); 'Sonata Pasticcio' in d minor (ed. Laura Schmid); Sonata in G (transp to F); Sonata No. 9 in g minir; Sonata in a minor (ed. anon); Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745): Canoni (ZWV 191)a

Sources: Francesco Maria Veracini, [1] Sonate a Violino, o Flauto solo, e Basso, 1716; [2] Sonate a Violino solo, e Basso, op. 1, 1721

Claudius Kamp, recordera, bassoon; Bruno Hurtado Gosalvez, bass violin, viola da gamba; Sam Chapman, archlute, theorbo, guitar; Eriko Wakita, harpsichord (solob), organ

Recorder players often complain about a lack of repertoire of some substance. There is certainly some truth in that: especially in the first half of the 18th century, the recorder was mostly played by amateurs, and many sonatas and concertos are technically not too challenging. However, it is probably not as bad as one may think. The recorder player and scholar Inês d'Avena, for instance, has discovered several pieces for the recorder in Italian sources, in particular of Neapolitan origin, and some of them are certainly not that easy to play. Even so, recorder players who don't want to confine themselves to the standard repertoire, such as the sonatas by Handel and the concertos by Vivaldi, often have to turn to music conceived for other instruments, such as the transverse flute or the violin. Sometimes composers themselves offered alternative scorings, in other cases sonatas can be easily played on the recorder thanks to the fact that the latter instrument exists in various pitches. And if that is not possible, performers can adapt them to the recorder, for instance through transposition to a more suitable key. The two discs under review here largely consist of arrangements of different kinds.

The first disc, by Anne-Suse Enßle and Reinhard Führer, comes with liner-notes under the title "Original compositions and transcriptions for recorder and harpsichord". I just wondered what these "original compositions" may be, because the entire programme seems to consist of adaptations of music, that was originally conceived for other instruments. That goes for the Sonata in a minor by Albinoni, which was intended for violin and basso continuo. Here it is performed with a continuo realisation by Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber, one of Johann Sebastian Bach's students. Another, and better-known student of his, was Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. For a long time one of his trio sonatas was attributed to his teacher. The Sonata in C also exists in an adaptation for violin and obbligato harpsichord. The performance here is based on both versions. Georg Philipp Telemann composed quite a lot for the recorder, but the Sonata in d minor is from a collection called Methodische Sonaten, dating from 1728. It includes twelve sonatas for violin or transverse flute. This particular sonata was transposed to G minor.

In his collection Concert Royaux ou Nouveau Concerts of 1724, François Couperin mostly leaves the line-up to the performers. In some performances the melody part is shared by several instruments, playing either colla parte or in alternation. Considering the fact that at the time of publication, the transverse flute was in the process of overshadowing the recorder, the latter is the less obvious option. However, it was still quite popular among amateurs, and from that perspective there is no real objection to a performance on the recorder. It is preceded here by one of Couperin's harpsichord pieces. Some of them can be performed with the participation of a melody instrument. Couperin himself suggests a performance with transverse flute of another harpsichord piece, Le rossignol en amour.

Bach was also a composer who often made transcriptions. Many sinfonias from his cantatas are based on solo concertos he had written previously, and he adapted vocal music for organ. So why not the other way round, and adapt organ music for instruments? His trio sonatas for organ can perfectly be performed as instrumental trio sonatas. Here the Trio super Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr is performed on recorder and harpsichord. The chorale melody plays a minor role. That is different in the Trio super Ach, bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, in which the recorder plays the cantus firmus. As both the recorder and the organ are wind instruments, the former is excellently suited to take care of parts of an organ piece.

The programme also closes with Bach. The Sonata in C (BWV 1033) is scored for transverse flute and basso continuo, but is of doubtful authenticity. Several suggestions have been made with regard to its authorship, but it is impossible to be sure who wrote it. Here we hear only the first two movements. The performers have added three movements from other pieces: the Concerto in d minor (BWV 596), Bach's organ arrangement of a concerto by Vivaldi, and the French Suite No. 6 in E (BWV 817), all adapted for recorder and basso continuo and transposed to the appropriate key.

The whole concept of this disc is based on Bach's practice of adapting music for performances by the Collegium Musicum at Zimmermann's Kaffeehaus in Leipzig. Obviously, we will never know whether any of the music on this disc has ever been performed at such concerts in this form. Even so, it justifies the practice of adaptation and arrangement, as long as it remains true to the style of the composer. That is certainly the case here. The two artists have done a fine job in their treatment of the material. and their excellent and imaginative performances are entirely convincing. I am sure that any lover of the recorder will greatly enjoy this disc.

Basically, the concept of the second disc is the same. Again, the art of adaptation is the thread of the recording by Laura Schmid and the Ensemble D'Istinto, but their programme brings us from Leipzig to Dresden. Here the court was under the spell of Italian music. Its long-time concertmaster, Johann Georg Pisendel, collected music from different sources - today preserved in the so-called Schrank II in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden - but especially pieces by Italian composers, such as Vivaldi and Albinoni. However, the Italian leanings came also to the fore in the appointment of Johann Adolf Hasse as Kapellmeister in 1730. Earlier one of the greatests violinists of his time - or the greatest, as he himself thought - worked in Dresden: Francesco Maria Veracini (1717 to 1722). During his sojourn, he published a set of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo as his Op. 1. However, in 1716 he had already published a collection of sonatas for recorder or violin.

Hasse and Veracini are the main composers in the programme. As far as the latter is concerned, Laura Schmid plays one original piece: the Sonata No. 9 in g minor from the 1716 set. The other sonatas by Veracini are arrangements of some sort. Interesting is Sonata in a minor, which an unknown contemporary put together from different sonatas in the Op. 1 collection. Laura Schmid followed his example, and this resulted in the 'Sonata Pasticcio' in d minor. The sources are a violin sonata in Schrank II, the violin sonata No. 5 from the Op. 1 and the sonata No. 3 from 1716. The Sonata in F is an adaptation of a violin sonata from Schrank II, originally in the key of G major. The disc also closess with Veracini: the twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo which came from the press in London and Florence in 1744 under the title of Sonate accademiche end with a sonata that includes a brilliant ciaccona.

Johann Adolf Hasse was the most famous and most prolific composer of operas of his time. His credentials in this department were the main reason that he was appointed Kapellmeister. Instrumental music takes a relatively small place in his oeuvre. The two sonatas included here are taken from a set of six sonatas for transverse flute or violin, printed as his Op. 2 in 1740 in London. They are written in the galant idiom, and both end with a menuet. The second sonata is transposed from G major to D major. Hasse also wrote some keyboard music; in recent years this part of his oeuvre has been explored in several recordings. Here we hear a Prelude in B flat, a piece that has been preserved separately.

Lastly, Jan Dismas Zelenka. He worked as a double bass player in the court orchestra, and the largest part of his oeuvre comprises sacred music. His instrumental oeuvre is relatively small, but of excellent quality. The Canoni are probably new to the catalogue. I can't remember ever having heard them. The liner-notes don't give much information about them. New Grove mentions nine canons on the hexachord, and dates them around 1721. They are played here on various combinations of instruments.

This is a most interesting and musically compelling disc. It is nice to have two sonatas by Hasse; his instrumental music definitely deserves more attention. But, in all honesty, the sonatas by Veracini make a more lasting impression. He certainly was a brilliant composer. I already mentioned the ciaccona; the Sonata in a minor ends with the piece that has given this disc its title, 'Postiglione', the nickname of a gigue. It is an exuberant piece, and receives an excellent performance from Laura Schmid and her colleagues. The overall level of music making deserves much praise. Laura Schmid produces a beautiful tone, and delivers truely speechlike performances. She receives excellent support from the basso continuo group, which includes a nice variety of instruments.

Another disc recorder lovers should not miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Anne-Suse Enßle
Laura Schmid

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