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Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694 - 1758): "The 12 Flute Sonatas Nos 1-5"

Dan Laurin, recorder
Paradiso Musicale

rec: Oct & Dec 2013, Stocksund, Petruskyrkan
BIS - BIS-2105 (© 2014) (70'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/Sw
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in G (BeRI 201)a; Sonata II in D (BeRI 202); Sonata III in c minor (BeRI 203); Sonata IV in G (BeRI 204)a; Sonata V in e minor (BeRI 205)a

Source: XII Sonate a flauto traverso, violone e cembalo, 1727

Mats Olofsson, celloa; Jonas Nordberg, guitara; Anna Paradiso, harpsichord

In the 17th century the German-born family Düben played a key role in Swedish music life. Gustav (c1628-1690) put together a large collection of music from all over Europe. It is ironic that it doesn't include a single piece by a Swedish composer. The reason is that at that time there were no Swedish composers. In the first half of the 17th century German composers dominated the music scene, later French and Italian musicians played their part. Johan Helmich Roman, the composer of the sonatas which are the subject of the present disc, is the first composer of Swedish birth in history. He played a major role in the development of music life.

Roman was educated as a violinist and played in the court orchestra at the age of seven. From 1715 to 1721 he stayed in London where he became acquainted with the music of Handel and the works of Italian composers who had settled there, such as Francesco Gemiani, or stayed there for some time, such as Francesco Maria Veracini and Giovanni Bononcini. These years left a strong mark on the sonatas for transverse flute and basso continuo which were printed in 1727, but which, according to Eva Helenius Öberg in her liner-notes, were probably written during Roman's years in London.

One of their hallmarks is the influence of Italian opera. Many movements are highly dramatic, for instance in the Sonata II which Dan Laurin analyses in the booklet. The second movement from the Sonata I, the opening largo from the Sonata IV and the grave from the Sonata V are also striking examples of Roman's theatrical style. The latter includes a couple of pretty heavy emotional outbursts. Some movements comprise several sections of a strongly contrasting character, and there are sudden general pauses here and there. These features remind me of the music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - and then we are talking about music which was written about twenty to thirty years later! That attests to the fact that Roman's music is quite modern for its time. In addition to the features already mentioned we should not forget his use of harmony. A number of movements include daring harmonic progressions.

In 2009 I reviewed a recording of the complete set of twelve sonatas as played by Verena Fischer, Klaus-Dieter Brandt and Léon Berben. I was impressed by the music, and the present recording only enhances my appreciation. Verena Fischer played them on the transverse flute, the instrument for which they were conceived. However, the recorder still played an important role in Swedish music life at the time these sonatas were printed. That justifies a performance on this instrument, and that makes this disc a real alternative to the Naxos recording. In the present performances the sonatas take a little more time than on the Naxos set. That is not so much because Dan Laurin and his colleages are generally slower, but because their interpretation is overall more theatrical. They usually take more time in the slower movements, and because of that these contrast more strongly with the fast movements. The most striking example is the grave from the Sonata V which I already mentioned. It lasts 3'42' here, in the Naxos recording 2'34". On the other hand, in my review of the Naxos set I noticed that the andante from the Sonata I was a bit too slow, and sounded more like an adagio. The tempo here (2'37" vs 3'14") is much better. I also should mention that the interpreters treat the tempo with differentiation: sometimes they slow down, and then the tempo is speeded up.

This fits the character of Roman's flute sonatas perfectly. The performers fully explore their theatrical character and give much emphasis to the dramatic key moments. There are some improvisatory cadenzas; I don't know whether these have been written out by Roman or added by the performers but they seem very appropriate. If one listens to these sonatas it is hard to understand why they are not part of the standard repertoire of chamber music ensembles. This set of twelve sonatas is not just the umpteenth collection of flute sonatas from the baroque era. They have a character of their own, and that is very well conveyed in this recording. I am looking forward to the remaining sonatas.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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