musica Dei donum
"The Spohr Collection"
Ashley Solomon, transverse flute;
Reiko Ichise, viola da gambaa;
David Miller, theorbob;
Julian Perkins, harpsichordc
rec: Dec 2019, Renswoude (NL), Remonstrantse Kerk
Channel Classics - CCS 43020 (© 2020) (69'45")
Cover & track-list
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750):
Sonata in E flat (BWV 525) (transposed to G)c;
Jean-Baptiste BARRIÈRE (1707-1747):
Sonata a tre No. 2 in d minorabc;
Jacques Martin HOTTETERRE 'le Romain' (1673-1763):
Prelude  - L'autre jour mam Clorisab;
Prelude  - Pourquoy, doux rossignolab;
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764):
Sonata in A, op. 1,5 (transposed to G)abc ;
Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764):
Sonata in C, op. 2,1c ;
Jacques MOREL (1700-1749):
Chaconne en trioab;
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767):
Fantasia in e minor (TWV 40,9);
Sonata in e minor (TWV 41,e2)abc 
 Jacques-Martin Hotteterre 'le Romain', L'art de préluder, op. 7, 1719/R;
 Jean-Marie Leclair, Premier livre de sonates, [op. 1], 1723/R;
 Georg Philipp Telemann, Sonate metodiche, 1728;
 Pietro Antonio Locatelli, XII Sonate à flauto traversiere solo è basso, op. 2, 1732
For representatives of historical performance practice, historical instruments were always one of the main sources of inspiration. In many ways these were fundamentally different from the instruments commonly used in their time. In the early stages of historical performance practice, labels released recordings on instruments from museums or from private collections. In the course of time, more and more copies of such instruments became available for everyday practice as well as for concerts and recordings. Only a few performers had the opportunity to play real historical instruments. Especially the players of wind instruments had to rely on copies, as many original instruments are not in playing condition or are far too precious and too fragile to be used for concerts and recordings.
Today, the art of copying historical instruments has reached such a level that they are almost equal to the originals. However, as Ashley Solomon states in the booklet to the present recording, some compromises are inevitable in the interest of intonation and reliability. "[This] can unfortunately change the personality and character of the instrument." No wonder, then, that he was very excited when he became acquainted with a large private collection of historical flutes in Germany. Thanks to the generosity of the owner, he was able to use nine different flutes, built between around 1680 and circa 1735, for a recording of flute pieces by French, German and Italian composers. "[It] is not only the excitement of playing instruments built when the music was composed but also their unique playing qualities which captivate, attracting the player to struggle with, tame and ultimately delight in performing on such exquisite original instruments."
The booklet includes short descriptions and pictures of the instruments used for this recording. This is most interesting for those interested in the transverse flute and those who play the flute themselves. For the general listener, it is the music which will be the main attraction of this disc. Not often one is able to hear music on the instruments for which it may have been originally written. Ashley Solomon has made a representative selection of music from various regions, representing the different styles across Europe. There is certainly a large repertoire to choose from, as the flute became one of the most fashionable instruments in the course of the first half of the 18th century. France is particularly well represented as here the flute was more popular than anywhere else. This explains why Jean-Marie Leclair, himself a virtuosic violinist, whose oeuvre comprises almost exclusively pieces for his own instrument, indicates in several sonatas that they can be played on the flute as well. Solomon selected a sonata which has no such indication, and therefore transposed the Sonata V from the Op. 1 from A to G major. In two further French pieces, the flute is partnered by a viola da gamba in a trio texture (Morel, Barrière). One of the main exponents of the 'new' transverse flute was Jacques Martin Hotteterre 'le Romain'. He has left a considerable corpus of music for the flute, although many pieces can also be played on other instruments, such as the 'old-fashioned' recorder and the oboe. Here we get several specimens of a popular genre at the time: arrangements of vocal pieces, called airs or brunettes. These are mostly taken from a large corpus of airs de cour, a common genre of the 17th century. Such pieces, as well as the sonatas previously mentioned, were mainly intended for amateurs.
That is also the case with the pieces by Georg Philipp Telemann, one of the most Francophile composers of Germany. The flute is particularly well represented in his oeuvre, and for this instrument he composed a set of twelve fantasias without basso continuo. They are different in character, and consist of several movements of contrasting tempi. They are specimens of the 'mixed taste' that Telemann preferred. Even more specifically written for amateurs are the twelve 'methodical sonatas', from which set we hear the third. The target group of these sonatas explains why the slow movements come with the composer's embellishments. These were not meant to be slavishly copied, but to be used as models to emulate. This pedagogical feature shows that Telemann was an exponent of the Enlightenment.
Bach's six trio sonatas for organ are also pedagogical material, but in this case for just one person: his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann. In our time these pieces are often performed and recorded with instrumental ensembles of different kinds, such as keyboard and recorder or a trio of two melody instruments and basso continuo. Here Solomon follows the former option: the flute takes care of the treble part, whereas the harpsichord plays the second melody part and the bass.
Pietro Antonio Locatelli was considered one of the greatest violinists of his time. For most of his life he lived and worked in Amsterdam, where he composed and performed, and acted as music publisher. He was also a music teacher, and one of his students was a flautist. As the inventory of his legacy included some flutes, it is safe to assume that he also played the flute. This could explain why he composed a set of flute sonatas, whereas otherwise he confined himself to concertos and sonatas for the violin. The flute sonatas are less brilliant than his violin works, but they are certainly substantial, and include some theatrical traits.
This is a very fine disc, which - as I indicated - may especially appeal to lovers and players of the flute. However, its importance goes beyond that: it is also a fascinating sounding documentation of some outstanding instruments and the art of their makers. It is nice that they are actually used for what they were made for: the performance of music. Ashley Solomon was clearly inspired by these precious instruments, and delivers outstanding interpretations. He plays with much sensitivity, and considering that most of this music was intended for domestic performance, it makes much sense that in many pieces he is supported by viola da gamba and theorbo. A more extroverted piece as Locatelli's sonata is given a bolder interpretation, which is spot-on. The only issue is the balance in Bach's trio sonata: all the parts are equally important, but here the flute is just too dominant.
It is a relatively minor issue, though: the main thing is the use of genuine historical instruments. That is reason enough to specifically recommend this disc.
Johan van Veen (© 2020)