musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Felice GIARDINI (1726 - 1796): "6 Sonatas for Flute & Harpsichord"

ConSerto Musico

rec: Dec 29 - 30, 2020, Trebaseleghe (PD, Italy), Presso Studio Rosso - Zanotto Strumenti
Brilliant Classics - 95625 (© 2021) (69'07")
Liner-notes: E/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Minuet con Variazioni in C; Sonata in G, op. 3,1; Sonata in C, op. 3,2; Sonata in F, op. 3,3; Sonata in A, op. 3,4; Sonata in g minor, op. 3,5; Sonata in D, op. 3,6

Mario Felona, transverse flute; Francesco Galligioni, cello; Paola Frazzato, bassoon; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord

18th-century England saw a large influx of performers and composers from the continent, in particular from Italy. They were attracted by the lively music scene, especially in London, which was also a centre of music printing. Moreover, English audiences were receptive to the Italian style, and many Italians played a major role at the music scene. One of them was Felice Giardini.

Giardini was from Turin, and was educated at the violin. His father sent him to Milan, where he became a chorister at the Cathedral. After his return to Turin, he became a pupil of the famous Giovanni Battista Somis, who had also been the teacher of, among others, Jean-Marie Leclair. At the age of 20 he entered the orchestra of the Teatro Regio. Later he worked in Rome and Naples. In 1748 he set out on a concert tour, which also brought him to London in 1750. He decided to stay, and between 1751 and 1764 he participated in many concerts, acted as music master to members of the aristocracy and even the Prince of Wales. In addition he worked as teacher and was involved in the music theatre. In the 1780s he travelled to Italy and Spain, and soon after his return he moved to St Petersburg and then to Moscow, where he also died at the age of 80.

Giardini wrote some music for the stage, but most of that is lost; only fragments from one opera have been preserved. Also lost is his only oratorio. The largest part of his extant oeuvre consists of instrumental music. As one may expect, most of that is for violin, either with basso continuo or with obbligato keyboard. In addition he composed trios, sometimes for unusual combinations, such as violin, guitar and fortepiano, duos for two string instruments, and some violin concertos. Giardini was also an early composer of string quartets.

The present disc focuses on the six sonatas for harpsichord and transverse flute or violin Op. 3. This set was first published in London in 1751, and saw two reprints in Paris. The first reprint includes a minuet with variations for harpsichord solo, which is also performed here. The title mentions flute and violin as alternatives, but according to ConSerto Musico's flautist, Mario Folena, the sonatas are idiomatically more suitable for the flute than the violin. The title also suggests that these sonatas are for only two instruments, but they have the traces of trios, and that is the reason that the left hand part is supported here by either the cello or the bassoon.

These sonatas are written in the then common galant idiom. All but one comprise two movements; four sonatas end with a minuet. The Sonata No. 6 is an exception: it comes in three movements, and it is considerably longer than the other five: eighteen minutes versus less than ten. That is largely due to the first movement, which takes a little over nine minutes.

Music in the galant idiom is generally thought to be entertaining and carefree. That is not incorrect, but a little one-sided. That certainly goes for these sonatas by Giardini. There are some dark shades, for instance in the Sonata No. 2, whose first movement includes a modulating passage through minor keys. Galant sonatas were mostly written in major keys, and the choice of G minor as the key for the Sonata No. 5 is remarkable. It is the most dramatic sonata of the set; the opening movement includes a modulation in sixteen bars. Whereas galant music is mostly technically not very challenging, the Sonata No. 4 is notable for its virtuosity. The opening movement has the appropriate title of brillante. The same goes for the Sonata No. 6, whose first movement includes a brillant cadenza in the harpsichord part.

This recording sheds light on the oeuvre of a composer who was somebody at the music scene in London during the second half of the 18th century, but whose oeuvre has received little attention to date. The ensemble L'Astrée recorded some of his quartets for different combinations of instruments (Opus 111, 1997) and Giuliano Carmignola recorded some of his violin concertos (Musica Viva, 2017). From that angle this disc is most welcome. It attests to the quality and variety of Giardini's music, and suggests that a thorough exploration of his oeuvre is worth the effort. These sonatas are well-written and have more to offer than just entertainment. That is also due to the performances. Not only is the playing of the four artists very good, but they have also been quite creative in their interpretation, for instance by including cadenzas here and there. The Sonata No. 3 clearly refers to the countryside, with imitation of the sound of bagpipes, and that is nicely emphasized here by the bassoon. There is just one issue: the title clearly mentions the harpsichord first, and it seems to me that the balance within the ensemble is too much in favour of the flute.

However, this does in no way compromise my appreciation of this disc, which I have very much enjoyed. Let's hope for more Giardini.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

CD Reviews