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Recorder sonatas from Naples

[I] Francesco MANCINI (1672 - 1737): "Solos for a Flute"
Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players
rec: June 18 - 20, 2013, Baltimore, MD, Peobody Conservatory (Keith Symington Griswold Hall)
Chandos - CHAN 0801 (© 2014) (68'01")
Liner-notes: E/D/F

Sonata I in d minora; Sonata II in e minorb; Sonata IV in a minora; Sonata V in Da; Sonata VI in B flata; Sonata X in b minora; Sonata XI in g minora; Sonata XII in Gb

Source: XII Solos, 17272

Gwyn Roberts, recordera, transverse fluteb; Lisa Terry, cello; Richard Stone, archlute, theorbo, guitar; Adam Pearl, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Tesori di Napoli"
Daniel Rothert, recorder; Luca Quintavalle, harpsichord
rec: [n.d.], Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
Hänssler Classic - CD 98.028 (© 2013) (73'11")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon (Georg Philipp TELEMANN?, 1681-1767): Sonata in c minor; Sonata in a minor; Baldassare FEDERICI (?-?): Sonata in F; Nicola FIORENZA (1700-1764): Sonata in a minor; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Sonata (Cantata) in B flat; Leonardo LEO (1694-1744): Sonata in d minor; Giovanni Antonio PIANI (1678-1760), arr anon: Sonata in e minor (op. 1); Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750): Sonata in F; Francesco SARTI (?-?): Sonata in g minor

The recorder was one of the most popular instruments until around 1700. At that time its decline started as it was gradually overshadowed by the transverse flute. That was especially the case in France, Germany and Italy. However, it remained popular in England and among amateurs across Europe. During the first half of the 18th century Naples emerged as one of the centres of music in Italy and its style disseminated across the continent. As this is mostly identified with the galant idiom it is remarkable that a considerable amount of music for the recorder has been written in Naples.

One of the most important collections is known as the Manoscritto di Napoli 1725. It comprises 24 concertos or sonatas for recorder and strings by various composers; among them are Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Mancini. The latter is represented with twelve concertos, his complete output for this scoring. Although he was mainly active as a composer of vocal music - operas, oratorios - and his fame across Europe was largely based on his church music, he has become best-known in our time as a composer of music for recorder. Apart from the twelve concertos he wrote twelve sonatas for recorder and basso continuo, and these are the only instrumental works from his pen which were ever printed.

The first edition appeared in 1724 in London as Solos for a Violin or Flute. Only three years later it was reprinted, and here the reference to the violin had been omitted. This bears witness to the positive reception of these sonatas as well as the continuing popularity of the recorder in England. The original edition was dedicated to John Fleetwood Esq, who was the English Consul General to the Reign of Naples and had returned to England in 1722. In his liner-notes to the Chandos disc Guido Olivieri suggests that the publication in London could have been part of an attempt of Mancini to find a position in England like some of his countrymen before him, for instance Geminiani and Barsanti. However, although at the time of publication Mancini was Alessandro Scarlatti's subordinate in the royal chapel, in 1718 he was given the guarantee that he would succeed the latter as maestro di cappella; that happened in 1725, when Scarlatti died. Moreover, in 1720 Mancini had been appointed director of the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto, and therefore he seems hardly to have had a reason to move to England.

Opera dominated music life in Naples, and that has left its traces in the instrumental music of Neapolitan composers. These sonatas are no exception. They are modelled after the Corellian sonata da chiesa, and counterpoint is certainly present here, especially in the second movements which are often fugues. The operatic element is in the contrast between the movements which unfortunately doesn't come off so strongly here because of the too long pauses between the movements. There are also contrasts within movements, for instance in the opening of the Sonata V in D which begins with an allegro which suddenly breaks off and turns into a largo. The Sonata IV in a minor also begins with a movement in two sections: the spiritoso is followed by a largo. Not long ago I reviewed a complete recording of this set by the Italian recorder player Lorenzo Cavasanti. The performance of this movement is quite different as Cavasanti takes the spiritoso much faster and the largo slower. It creates a greater contrast which lends the performance a stronger theatrical character.

That is not to say that this disc by the Tempesta di Mare Chamber Ensemble is not good. I have only compared a couple of sonatas, and the difference is not always substantial. I have certainly enjoyed Gwyn Roberts' playing, and the basso continuo group does a good job as well. One aspect which is particularly interesting is that two sonatas are played at the transverse flute. In Italy the term flauto was used for both the recorder and the transverse flute. Although there can be little doubt that the sonatas were intended for the recorder, it is perfectly legitimate to play them on the transverse flute.

If you add this disc to your collection you certainly won't regret it. This is first-class entertainment, and, considering the theatrical aspects of these sonatas, often more than that.

Theatrical aspects also come to the fore in some sonatas Daniel Rothert selected for his disc 'Tesori di Napoli'. The tracklist shows that not all the composers are from Naples, such as Baldassare Federici and Giuseppe Sammartini who were both from Milan and were also related. However, the title is correct as all the sonatas on the programme are from a collection of music which has its origin in Naples. It was put together by the Austrian Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach (1669-1742) who from 1728 to 1733 was Viceroy of the kingdom of Naples - since 1707 Naples was occupied by Austria - and was a great lover of music and sponsor of the arts. Today the greater part of the collection is preserved in the New York Public Library; other sources have remained in the Harrach Family Archive in the Austrian State Archives. Apart from music for recorder the collection includes pieces for lute, and it is assumed that Harrach played both instruments himself. "Should Harrach have gathered this collection for his own use, he must have been a brilliant musician, for both the lute and recorder works call for some considerable technical skills", Steffen Voss writes in his liner-notes.

One of the most brilliant pieces is the last of the programme, the Sonata in F by Giuseppe Sammartini, who was most famous as an oboist. Although the recorder was especially popular among amateurs it was also played at a professional level, and mostly by oboists. Sammartini, by the way, was also an Italian composer who settled in England. Naples' status as a centre of music was such that it attracted musicians from elsewhere. One of them was Johann Adolf Hasse who went to Naples in 1722 to study with Alessandro Scarlatti. During Harrach's time in Naples Hasse visited the city in 1729 and 1730 for performances of his operas and this may have resulted in his composition of the Sonata in B flat, called cantata in the manuscript.

A particularly theatrical piece is the Sonata in g minor by Federico Sarti, about whom nothing is known. It is also technically demanding, unlike the Sonata in d minor by Leonardo Leo. He was one of the leading composers in Naples, and mostly active in the field of the music theatre. Instrumental music takes a relatively minor place in his oeuvre, but his cello concertos have become quite famous and are often played. The Harrach collection includes no less than seven recorder sonatas from his pen. Leo's output is huge, whereas in comparison the oeuvre of Nicola Fiorenza is small, comprising about 30 compositions. They are remarkable in several ways, for instance his treatment of harmony. That could well be the reason that several discs have been devoted to his oeuvre. The Sonata in e minor by Giovanni Antonio Piani is an arrangement of a sonata for violin from his op. 1 which was printed in Paris in 1721. The third movement of the original was omitted.

The part of the collection which is preserved in Vienna includes four sonatas which are attributed to Telemann. According to Steffen Voss two of them are in fact by Johann Christoph Pepusch. The two sonatas recorded here could be by Telemann, especially the Sonata in c minor, but their authenticity cannot be proved. He believes that they are definitely written by a German composer. What particularly struck me is the strongly rhetorical character of the Sonata in a minor, especially the opening grave, and that could support the assumption that it is of German origin.

When I saw the disc's title I was afraid that we would get here again those pieces by Neapolitan composers which have been recorded several times before. Fortunately that is not the case. In fact, with the exception of the sonatas by Hasse and Piani all the pieces on this disc have been recorded here for the first time. That makes this disc a very important addition to the discography. The Harrach collection seems a most interesting source of music for recorder, and any professional player of this instrument - always looking for other music than the usual stuff - should delve into it. The two artists have served the composers and us with technically brilliant and musically exciting interpretations. Daniel Rothert delivers really theatrical performances, and Luca Quintavalle follows him all the way. Some sonatas are preceded by an improvised prelude on the harpsichord, a then common practice. Quintavallo could rely here on a collection of introduzioni from 1737, preserved in the Biblioteca Estense in Modena, and ascribed to Alessandro Scarlatti. This disc also shows that it is perfectly possible to accompany a solo instrument with harpsichord alone, without an additional string bass, let alone the currently seemingly inevitable theorbo.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Daniel Rothert
Tempesta di Mare

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