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"Destination London - Music for the Earl of Abingdon"

Wilbert Hazelzet, Marion Moonen, transverse flute; Bernadette Verhagen, violaa; Barbara Kernig, cello

rec: August 21 - 26, 2006, Brodersby (Ger), St Andreas Kirche
Berlin Classics - 0017982BC (© 2007) (68'20")

Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787): Trio in G, op. 16,4; Willoughby, Earl of ABINGDON (1740-1799): Capriccio I in C 'The Cure for the spleen'; Much ado about nothing in A; Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782): Quartet in C, op. 19,1 (Warb B 61)a; Quartet in D, op. 19,2 (Warb B 62)a; Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Trio in C (H IV,1); Trio in G (H IV,2); Carl Philipp STAMITZ (1745-1801): Trio in G

Until well into the 18th century the recorder was the most popular instrument in England, longer than anywhere else. But eventually it gave way to the transverse flute, something that had happened on the European continent decades earlier. Just as much music for the recorder was composed and published until midway the 18th century, in the second half a large repertoire for the transverse flute was published. This disc gives some idea of the kind of music that was written in England.

Two of the composers on the programme lived in England a considerable part of their life. Carl Friedrich Abel moved from Dresden to London in 1758/59 and Johann Christian Bach settled there in 1762, coming from Milan. Together they started a concert series in London, the so-called Bach-Abel concerts. In 1767 they met Lord Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon. He was a colourful character, who had been educated in Westminster, Oxford and Geneva, and had just returned from a journey through France and Italy. He acted as patron of the Bach-Abel concerts, and in the 1790s he sponsored Haydn's visits to London, after having failed to make the composer coming to England about 10 years before.

The Earl of Abingdon was an avid player of the transverse flute. While in Rome André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry wrote a solo concerto for him, and later in his life he even wrote some works himself. It seems his friendship with Haydn was an incentive for him to compose. It was the connection with the Earl which made Haydn write the two Trios for two transverse flutes and cello which have been recorded here. Haydn paid tribute to his sponsor with the Trio in G (H IV,2), which is a set of variations on the Earl's tune "The Lady's Looking Glass". Haydn has reported a meeting with the Earl and his friend the Baron of Aston; the latter was meant to play the second flute part. It is this Baron of Aston to whom Haydn dedicated the publication of these two trios by Monzani in London in 1799.

It seems the Earl of Abingdon was quite a skilled player, as the flute parts are not exactly easy. He also inspired other composers to write music for him. The title of this disc suggests all pieces played here were specifically written for the Earl of Abingdon, but the programme notes don't specify this. In the Trio in G, op. 16,4 by Carl Friedrich Abel the cello gets a more independent part than in the trios by Haydn. In particular in the first and last movements the three instruments are treated equally, whereas the middle movement is mainly a dialogue between the two flutes.

Johann Christian Bach wrote a series of four quartets: three of this opus 19 are for two flutes, viola and cello, whereas in one of the quartets the viola is replaced by the violin. In these quartets Bach also treats the instruments on equal terms. In the andante of the Quartet in C the viola plays a prominent role, whereas the opening movement of the Quartet in D is dominated by the contrast between the two flutes on the one hand and the strings on the other. In the andante of this quartet the instruments are regrouped: a dialogue of the first flute and the viola is followed by a dialogue between the second flute and the cello.

Just like Haydn Carl Stamitz only visited London: he stayed there in the later 1770s, and also came into contact with the Earl of Abingdon. Like the Trios by Haydn his Trio in G is evidence of the Earl's great skills, as the flute part is quite virtuosic. In the andante Stamitz shows his affilliation with the style of the Empfindsamkeit.

The four musicians on this disc give fine performances. They are playing as a real ensemble, which doesn't surprise as they often play together in ensembles and orchestras. The divertimento-like character of these pieces comes off very well, although sometimes I find the performances a shade too introverted. For instance, more could have been made of the so-called Mannheim rocket – an ascending figure of short notes – which appears in the first movement of Carl Friedrich Abel's Trio. The programme has been well recorded, but in the Trios of Haydn I had liked the flutes to be a bit more apart, which had made the dialogues between them more clearly audible.

This is a most enjoyable disc which gives an interesting picture of an important aspect of music life in England in the second half of the 18th century. High quality musical entertainment.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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