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"Musical London, c.1700: From Purcell to Handel"

Philippa Hyde, sopranoa
The Parley of Instruments
Dir: Peter Holman

rec: Feb 17 - 19, 2010, Dunwich (Suffolk), Potton Hall
Chandos - CHAN 0776 ( 20011) (75'47")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F

Raphael COURTEVILLE (fl c1675-c1735): Creep softly, purling streams, symphony songabcdf; William CROFT (1678-1727): For rural and sincerer joys, symphony songabcdf; Giovanni Battista DRAGHI (c1640-1708): Sonata for 2 violins and bc in g minorbcdg; Where art thou, God of Dreams?abcdf; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) (attr): Venus and Adonis, cantata (HWV 85) (ed. P. Holman)acef; Nicola Francesco HAYM (1678-1729): Have mercy upon me, O God, Chandos anthemabceg; Nicola MATTEIS (fl c1670-c1713): [Suite in d minor] (preludio. prestissimo; fuga in fantasia. presto; grave. adagio - prestissimo - adagio; ground per fa la mano. allegro)bcdf [1]; Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667-1752): Sonata for 2 violins and bc in D 'Smallcoal'bcef; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Tell me, some pitying angel (The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation) (Z 196)adg; John WELDON (1676-1736): Suite for 2 violins and bc in d minorbcdg

Sources: [1] Nicola Matteis, Ayres ... 3rd and 4th Parts, 1685 [bk 4]

Judy Tarlingb, Oliver Webberc, violin; Mark Caudle, bass viold, celloe; Peter Holman, harpsichordf, organg

In the decades around 1700 London was one of the places to be for performing musicians and composers from all over Europe. The list of those who for a longer or shorter period of time lived and worked in London includes French, Dutch, German and Italian names. This disc by The Parley of Instruments sheds light on the music of some of these masters, and combines them with music by English composers who worked in London at the same time. How little this aspect of English music history is explored yet is reflected by the fact that no less than seven pieces have been recorded here for the first time.

One is inclined to think that the immigration of Italian musicians led to the Italian style gaining ground in England. But in fact the English were already under the spell of Italian music when the majority of Italian musicians came to London. One of those who had prepared the breeding ground for them was Nicola Matteis who probably settled in London in the early 1670s and caused surprise by his virtuosity on the violin. Four pieces from his fourth book are grouped into a suite here. Although his airs were scored for solo violin with basso continuo the four books contain ad libitum parts for a second violin. That is how the suite is played here. Another early immigrant was Giovanni Battista Draghi who came to England even before Matteis, shortly after the Restoration in the early 1660s. He became organist of the Queen's catholic chapel and acted as harpsichord teacher. Interestingly the Sonata in g minor is more English in style than Italian, showing that not only English composers were influenced by the Italian style but that immigrants also embraced some elements of the English musical tradition. In his liner-notes Peter Holman sees similarities between Draghi's sonata and the consort music of Matthew Locke. The second adagio contains some strong dissonances which we also find in Purcell's music.

English musical life didn't only show Italian influence, there were traces of the French style as well. The Suite in d minor by Peter Weldon contains three dances in the French manner, whereas the opening and closing movements show the influence of his teacher Henry Purcell. For rural amd sincere joys by William Croft starts with a French overture. It is one of the rare specimens of his secular oeuvre which mainly dates from early in his career. It is a so-called symphony song, a vocal piece for voice, violins and bc. To this category also belongs Creep softly, purling streams by Raphael Courteville, about whom the liner-notes don't give any information. Despite his French-sounding name he seems to have been of English birth.

Two composers from Germany are also represented. In the case of the famous George Frideric Handel one shouldn'r expect any real German influence as he should be considered rather an Italian composer. Although his music is frequently performed and recorded the cantata Venus and Adonis appears here for the first time on disc. The main reason may be that there is some doubt about its authenticity. If it was indeed written by Handel it is his first composition on an English text. It has been preserved incomplete: only two arias have come down to us, and Peter Holman has written the two missing recitatives. Another German composer was Johann Christoph Pepusch, who has become most famous for being involved in the performance of John Gay's satire The Beggar's Opera. Soon after his arrival in 1697 he became part of the London musical establishment. The Sonata in D is nicknamed Smallcoal, because it was probably written for the concerts given by the coal merchant Thomas Britton. It largely follows Corelli's sonata da chiesa model, but is in five movements, starting with a vivace.

The disc closes with a piece by another Italian composer, Nicola Francesco Haym. He was a professional cellist who from 1694 to 1700 was employed as such by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni in Rome. In 1701 he arrived in London, and soon became involved in opera productions. He adapted texts for many pasticcios and for various operas by Handel. Fairly recently an autograph manuscript has been found which contains six anthems which Haym composed for James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon (later Duke of Chandos), for whom he worked from 1715 to 1718. One of these anthems is performed here, on verses from Psalm 51. It begins with an Italian overture which is then followed by a sequence of two accompanied recitatives and six arias. It is a rather strange piece, which has little in common with Handel's Chandos Anthems, not just because of its small scoring for solo voice, two violins, cello and bc. It is more like an Italian chamber cantata than a psalm setting. Several arias contain an obbligato part for the cello, without any doubt originally played by Haym himself.

In many ways this is a very interesting disc. It brings to the fore some aspects of musical life in London around 1700 which are hardly known. And the fact that so many pieces are recorded here for the first time as well as the general quality of the music should encourage ensembles and individual performers to explore this stage in English music history more extensively. The performances are nice but I have the feeling that more could have been made from this repertoire. In general I find them too restrained. The sonatas could have been played with more dynamic differentation and the tempi are sometimes too moderate. Philippa Hyde has a nice voice and sings the arias in Handel's cantata well, but does too little with the recitatives, which are also rhythmically too strict. She is at her best in Haym's anthem, whereas Purcell's Tell me, some pitying angel doesn't lack expression, but could have been more expressive.

Johan van Veen ( 2011)

Relevant links:

Philippa Hyde
The Parley of Instruments

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