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Francesco MANCINI, Giuseppe SAMMARTINI, Roberto VALENTINI: Recorder sonatas

[I] Roberto VALENTINI (Robert VALENTINE) (1671 - 1747): "Recorder Sonatas Op. 5, La Villeggiatura"
Cappella Musicale Enrico Stuart
rec: Oct 14 - 18, 2019, Monte Compatri, Palazzo Annibaldeschi
Brilliant Classics - 96050 (2 CDs) (© 2021) (1.55'12")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

12 Sonatas for recorder and bc op. 5 [no keys mentioned]; La Villeggiatura: 6 Sonatas for two recorders [no keys mentioned]

Romeo Ciuffa, Carolina Pace, recorder; Irene Maria Caraba, viola da gamba; Michele Carreca, theorbo, guitar; Marco Vitale, harpsichord, organ

[II] Francesco MANCINI (1672 - 1737): "Six Recorder Sonatas"
Ensemble IJ Space
rec: March 2018, Diemen (NL), Schuilkerk De Hoop
Claves - 50-1907 (© 2020) (56'58")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata II in e minor; Sonata IV in a minor; Sonata VI in B flat; Sonata VII in C; Sonata XI in g minor; Sonata XII in G

Yi-Chang Liang, recorder; Chia-Hua Chiang, cello; Asako Ueda, archlute, guitar; Machiko Suto, harpsichord

[III] Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695 - 1750): "Sonatas for recorder and basso continuo vol. 2"
Andreas Böhlen, recorder; Daniel Rosin, cello; Pietro Prosser, lute; Michael Hell, harpsichord
rec: Sept 15 - 18, 2019, Blankenburg, Kloster Michaelstein
Aeolus - AE-10336 (© 2021) (77'07")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Sonata in C (Sibley No. 8) (GSM1308a); Sonata in C (Sibley No. 26) (GSM 1325); Sonata in D (Sibley No. 17) (GSM 1316); Sonata in d minor (Sibley No. 20) (GSM 1319); Sonata in F (Sibley No. 18) (GSM 1317a); Sonata in f minor (Sibley No. 16) (GSM 1315); Sonata in g minor (Sibley No. 14) (GSM 1313a)
GSM: numbers in Benoît Laurent, So Sweet Martini Claims Attention Here..., Brussels 2021

In the first half of the 18th century London was one of the main music metropoles of Europe. The musical climate attracted many performers and composers from across Europe. Many of them were from Italy, as music lovers in England were particularly receptive to the Italian style. The composer whose music is the subject of the first disc under review here, moved in the opposite direction. He was of English birth - he was born in Leicester and baptized as Robert Valentine - and moved to Rome in the late 1690s. New Grove mentions that he was educated at the recorder and the oboe, but in Italy he was mainly active as a violinist. According to the liner-notes to the Brilliant Classics discs, he entered the Congregation of S. Cecilia with the qualification as violinist. In subsequent documents he is mentioned as a cellist. This suggests that he was, like many of his contemporaries, a 'multi-instrumentalist' - this was a phenomenon known from the 17th century, which was to change gradually during the 18th century, when more and more players focused on one particular instrument. That he was also playing the oboe professionally is documented by his participation as such in the performance of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione in Rome in 1707.

As a composer he left a considerable oeuvre. The work-list in New Grove mentions thirteen collections with and five without an opus number. In addition some separate works have survived, and the present recording includes sonatas that have been preserved in manuscript in the Bibliotheca Palatina in Parma, which is not mentioned in New Grove. That makes it all the more surprising that so little of his oeuvre is available on disc. The Ensemble Mediolanum recorded a set of twelve recorder sonatas (which I have not heard, but what is a different collection from what is included on the present recording) and the ensemble Pizzicar Galante recorded six sonatas Op. 12; these can be played on various instruments, and the ensemble plays them on the mandolin. That is about what is available, and that makes this set a substantial addition to the catalogue.

Whereas the first six editions of Valentini's music were published in Rome and in Amsterdam, from Opus 7 onwards his music was printed in London. Apparently he always remained in close contact with his home country. Some of the early editions are for two violins, most of the later music is scored for recorder(s). That cannot surprise, as the recorder was still very popular among amateurs, in particular in England. The fact that the main recorder makers were from there - Peter Bressan and Thomas Stanesby - attests to that. The performers assume that their recorders were also frequently played in Rome, and therefore they play copies of such instruments.

The sonatas Op. 5 were published in Amsterdam in 1716, and were reprinted two years later (as the Op. 6). In fact, most of Valentini's music was reprinted, which attests to its good reception. As so many sonatas of that time, the Op. 5 betrays the influence of Arcangelo Corelli, although Valentini does not follow his models slavishly. Whereas in his later collections he moves to the galant idiom, these sonatas bear witness to the importance of counterpoint, which at the time of composing was still considered the foundation of music. The number of movements varies from four to six. In addition to the usual tempo indications as allegro and adagio we find some dances (giga, gavotta, minuetto). The Sonata No. 10 includes a movement, called marcia and the penultimate movement of the Sonata No. 12 is called aria. As these sonatas were aimed at amateurs, they are technically not very demanding. Musically they are of excellent quality, though, and this recording documents that these pieces are an important addition to the repertoire.

That also goes for the six sonatas from the Parma collection, mentioned above, together bearing the title of La Villeggiatura, in translation something like "holiday season" or "holiday time". They are scored for two recorders without bass. One could call them duets, but the two recorders are not treated on strictly equal footing. The first recorder has the lead, and the second sometimes takes the role of an accompaniment, substituting for the omitted basso continuo. There are also episodes where the two recorders play in parallel thirds. Again, I consider these pieces interesting additions to the recorder repertoire, which will give much pleasure to professional and amateur recorder players alike.

The performances by the Cappella Musicale Enrico Stuart are pretty much ideal. The two recorder players produce a nice tone, and show a perfect feeling for what these pieces require to bring them to life. Some music for amateurs may be more interesting to play than to listen to, but that is not the case here. Also thanks to the engaging performances, these sonatas are also very nice to listen to.

Valentini had also contacts in Naples, especially through John Fleetwood, the English Consul General to the Reign of Naples. He was also the patron of Francesco Mancini, one of the main composers in Naples. He is one of the representatives of the Neapolitan school of the first half of the 18th century. He studied the organ at the Conservatorio di S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini, and then acted as organist. In 1704 he became organist of the royal chapel, in 1708 vice-maestro di cappella under Alessandro Scarlatti, whom he succeeded in 1725. In 1720 he was also appointed director of the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto.

Despite his education as an organist, his main activity was the composition of operas. In addition he wrote a considerable number of oratorios and liturgical works. The latter seem to have been particularly popular as many of them have been found in libraries all over Europe. Instrumental music makes only a small proportion of his oeuvre, but ironically it is this part of his output which is best-known today. The reason is that most of it is scored for recorder. And as the repertoire of recorder players is relatively limited it is understandable that Mancini's compositions meet great interest. In addition his recorder sonatas are very well written. The article on Mancini in New Grove says that he was "a skilful writer of melodies", and the recorder sonatas bear witness to that. Other features of his style are a good command of counterpoint and rich harmonies.

Mancini's best-known works for recorder are the pieces included in the so-called 'Naples manuscript' which is kept in the library of the Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella in Naples. They are called 'sonatas', but are in fact concertos, in which the recorder is supported by strings. The recording of the Ensemble IJ Space concerns the collection of sonatas for recorder and basso continuo which was printed in London in 1724. This edition is called Solos for a violin or flute. In the second edition of 1727 the violin wasn't mentioned anymore. The first edition was dedicated to the above-mentioned John Fleetwood Esq. It is likely that this dedication opened the possibility for this collection to be published in London (just like Valentini may have used his contacts with Fleetwood for the publication of his sonatas there). This guaranteed a wide dissemination as the recorder was particularly popular in England, whereas at the continent it was ousted by the transverse flute.

Two complete recordings of these sonatas have been reviewed on this site. The performances of the Ensemble Tripla Concordia are a little more outgoing than those by Yi-Chang Liang and his colleagues. However, the latter seems to observe all repeats, unlike Tripla Concordia. The recording by Armonia delle Sfere is interesting in that some sonatas are performed on the transverse flute and a few as harpsichord solos, in line with the suggestion at the cover page of the first edition. I don't know if the Ensemble IJ Space intends to record the remaining sonatas. I would hope so, because I certainly have enjoyed their performances. Yi-Chang Liang produces a beautiful sound and his performances are technically flawless. At first I found him a little too restrained, but overall I think he has found the right middle way between doing too much and doing too little.

The third disc is the second volume in what is to be a complete recording of those recorder sonatas by Giuseppe Sammartini, that are included in two manuscripts preserved in Parma (Italy) and Rochester (N.Y., USA) respectively. Sammartini was probably born in Milan. Like his father, he became an oboist, and together with his brother Giovanni Battista he played in the orchestra of the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan in the 1720s. The German flautist Johann Joachim Quantz heard him play and ranked him among the best of his time, of the same level on the oboe as Vivaldi on the violin. In the late 1720s Giuseppe moved to Brussels and then to London, where he would remain until his death. It was there that he made a career as a virtuoso on the oboe and as a composer. The music historian John Hawkins stated: "As a performer on the hautboy, Martini was undoubtedly the greatest that the world had ever known." He performed with the best musicians of his time, such as Bononcini, Porpora and Handel. Many virtuosic obbligato parts in Handel's operas were performed by Sammartini. As a composer he also was rated highly. Hawkins described him as an "admirable composer" and Charles Burney wrote that his compositions were "full of science, originality and fire". In his lifetime the largest part of his printed output comprised chamber music. The popularity of Sammartini's music is confirmed by the fact that his compositions were frequently performed by, for instance, the Academy of Ancient Music. Even in the 19th century his music still appeared on concert programmes.

Whereas the first volume focused on pieces included in the Parma collection, this second volume includes seven sonatas that are part of the collection from the Sibley Music Library of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. They comprise either three or four movements. Stylistically they belong to what is known as 'high Baroque', but otherwise they have little in common with what was written at the time. David Lasocki, in his liner-notes, states: "Although Sammartini's works do not reach the technical heights of Vivaldi's written around the same time or a little later, nothing - I repeat, nothing - I have seen in any of the works that Sammartini might have been familiar with prepares us for his own works for recorder and basso continuo, which are staggeringly original." Time and again one is surprised by unexpected melodic twists and turns, unusual harmonic progressions and sudden endings. Every sonata seems a kind of patchwork, as if the player is inventing things on the spot. These sonatas remind me of Christoph Graupner's instrumental music, which is also in many ways different from what was common in his time. Both composers largely avoid the typical baroque topoi.

I was quite impressed by the first volume of this series, both with regard to the music and the performances. This disc confirms by impressions of the first. This is exciting stuff, and the performers do a brilliant job by exploring the sonatas' features to the full. No detail goes passing by unnoticed. This is a perfect example of a happy marriage between music and performance. I am very much looking forward to the next instalment of this fascinating project.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Andreas Böhlen
Michael Hell
Daniel Rosin
Cappella Musicale Enrico Stuart
Ensemble IJ Space

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