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"The Virtuoso Recorder III - Concertos of the English Baroque"

Michael Schneider, recordera, transverse fluteb; Jung-Hyun Yu, recorderc
Cappella Academica Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: Oct 2 - 4, 2013, Frankfurt/Main, Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (Grosser Saal)
CPO - 777 885-2 (© 2015) (73'06")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

William BABELL (1698-1723): Concerto for 6th flute, strings and bc in D, op. 3,2a [1]; Concerto for 6th flute, strings and bc in e minor, op. 3,3a [1]; Concerto for 2 treble recorders, strings and bc in F, op. 3,6ac [1]; John BASTON (c1685-1740): Concerto No. 3 for treble recorder, strings and bc in Ga [3]; Charles DIEUPART (c1667-1740): Concerto for 5th flute, two oboes, strings and bc in a minora; Concerto for violin, oboe, strings and bc in A; Robert WOODCOCK (1690-1728): Concerto No. 4 for two 6th flutes, strings and bc in e minorac [2]; Concerto No. 5 for two 6th flutes, strings and bc in Dac [2]; Concerto No. 6 for two 6th flutes, strings and bc in D: gavotte with 2 variationsac [2]; Concerto No. 8 for transverse flute, strings and bc in Db [2]; Concerto No. 9 for transverse flute, strings and bc in e minorb [2]

Sources: [1] William Babell, Concertos in 7 Parts, op. 3, 1726; [2] Robert Woodcock, XII Concertos in Eight Parts, 1727; [3] John Baston, Six Concertos in Six Parts for Violins and Flutes, viz. a Fifth, Sixth and Consort Flute, 1729

From the renaissance until well into the 18th century the recorder was one of the most popular instruments in England, both among professional musicians and among amateurs. This explains that many collections of recorder music were published in London, including many by composers from the continent. These included the Italian Francesco Mancini and members of the Loeillet family from the southern Netherlands. There were also some home-grown composers of music for recorder, and three of them are represented on the present disc.

Robert Woodcock was born and died in Chelsea, near London, and was educated as a woodwind player. Whether he was a professional or a (good) amateur is uncertain. It is known that he composed an Ode for St Cecilia's Day which has been lost. His only extant compositions are the XII Concertos in Eight Parts published in London in 1727. It was one of the first editions with concertos for wind instruments in Europe. Three concertos are for one and three for two sixth flutes (recorders in D), three for the transverse flute and three for the oboe.

William Babell has become especially known for his arrangements of instrumental music and arias from Handel operas and of the violin sonatas op. 5 by Corelli. A feature of his arrangements is their virtuosity as he added a lot of notes to what the composers had originally written. His efforts in this department were sharply critisized by Charles Burney: "Mr Babel … at once gratifies idleness and vanity". We know little original music from his own pen. An Ode for St Cecilia's Day has been lost; a handful of keyboard pieces are attributed to him. The main collection of music is a set of six Concertos in 7 Parts, op. 3 which were published posthumously around 1726. Four of them are for sixth flute, one for two sixth flutes and one for two treble recorders. Babell may have acquired a somewhat dubious reputation, the concertos selected here are of fine quality. The Concerto No. 2 includes an imitation of the nightingale in the third movement which follows the previous movement attacca and opens with a solo of the recorder.

It is not known where John Baston was born and where he died; New Grove doesn't give the years of his birth and death, but the track-list for this CD has c1685 and 1740 respectively, probably the result of recent research. He was active as a player of the recorder and the cello. He was a member of the orchestras of Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre and later the Drury Lane Theatre. He played concertos - including his own - during the intervals of opera performances, just like Handel played his organ concertos. It is posssible that this goes for most other concertos on this disc as well. Six Concertos in Six Parts for Violins and Flutes, viz. a Fifth, Sixth and Consort Flute, published in 1729, are the only extant compositions from his pen. They are not judged favourably in New Grove: "Years of theatre experience showed Baston how to write lively, robust opening themes by balancing short phrases; they are, however, melodically undistinguished." This is confirmed by Michael Schneider who states that Baston "lacks, by and large, the ability to put his musical thoughts into meaningful order." He decided to include, "as a sort of curiosity", the third concerto from this set "whose first and last movements are not only identical but consist entirely (apart from a non-modulating ritornello) of a series of sequencing melodic snippets spliced together like an improvised cadenza".

It seems reasonably to include Baston in a disc which aims at giving a picture of what was written for the recorder in England at the time, but musically it is an uninteresting work. I would have preferred a complete recording of Woodcock's Concerto No. 6 from which here only the gavotte with variations is performed. It is a most delightful piece and confirms the positive impression of the other concertos from his pen included here. Particularly good is the Concerto No. 5 with its nice dialogues between the two recorders. These twelve concertos seem well worth being recorded complete. Let us hope that will happen some day.

Rather curious are the two very short concertos by Charles Dieupart, a composer of French birth who had settled in England and has become best known for his set of suites for harpsichord, alternatively scored for flute or violin and bc. In the Concerto in a minor the recorder is joined by two oboes but they are mostly to be heard in the tutti. The Concerto in A has solo parts for violin and oboe, but as the three movements are very short there is little room for the soloists to shine.

It seems that few concertos for recorder were written in England at the time. That could well have been due to the fact that composers focused on amateurs rather than professionals. Publishers like Walsh printed considerably more collections of sonatas than of concertos. Even so, the concertos recorded here deserve to be performed and recorded. I can hardly imagine a better performance than they get here. Michael Schneider doesn't try to make too much of them, for instance by adding excessive ornamentation. Jung-Hyun Yu is his equal partner in the double concertos. The tutti are given fine performances by the Cappella Academica Frankfurt. This is a worthy sequel to the previous discs devoted to concertos from Germany and Italy respectively.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Michael Schneider

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