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"The Spohr Collection, Vol. 2"

Ashley Solomon, transverse flute

rec: June 2022, Zaandam (NL), Muziekhaven
Channel Classics - CCS45323 (© 2023) (82'00")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Concerto in d minor (Wq 22 / H 425); Michel BLAVET (1700-1768): Concerto in a minor; Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Concerto in C, op. 7,3; Johann Joachim QUANTZ (1697-1773): Concerto in D (QV 5,41); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto in g minor, op. 10,2 'La Notte' (RV 439); Robert WOODCOCK (1690-1728): Concerto No. 9 in e minor

Sources: Robert Woodcock, XII Concertos in Eight Parts, 1727; Antonio Vivaldi, VI Concerti a flauto traverso, violino primo e secondo, alto viola, organo e violoncello, op. 10, 1729; Jean-Marie Leclair, Six Concerto a tre violini, alto, e basso, per organo, é violoncello, op. 7, 1737

Bojan Čičić, Alice Evans, violin; Jane Rogers, viola; Jannifer Morsches, cello; Rosanna Moon, double bass; Fred Jacobs, theorbo; Julian Perkins, harpsichord

Some years ago a collector of historical flutes offered Ashley Solomon the opportunity to make a recording with the instruments from his collection. This was the chance of a lifetime, because most historical wind instruments are too vulnerable to be played in concerts or recordings. It is even a small miracle if they are still in playing condition at all. No wonder that Solomon was very excited and took his chance to record music on the instruments for which it was written. The result was a disc with pieces for flute and basso continuo (The Spohr Collection). The present disc is a sequel, and this time Solomon turned to the genre of the solo concerto.

The transverse flute was known since the Middle Ages, but in the 17th century it underwent a technical change in France, where it was adapted to the requirements of the style of the time. This resulted in a large repertoire of pieces to be played in private surroundings, either solo or in ensemble with other instruments. In the first decades of the 18th century the baroque transverse flute disseminated across Europe and quickly became popular among amateurs, gradually overturning the recorder as their favourite instrument. Especially the galant idiom was tailor-made for the flute, and numerous pieces of various complexion were written for a quickly growing market of players.

It did not take long before composers started to write solo concertos for the flute. One of the first was Antonio Vivaldi. It is notable that when in 1728 he published a set of flute concertos as his Op. 10, he included several concertos which he had originally conceived as concerti da camera with a part for recorder. The flute had become a fashionable instrument, which made it profitable to publish concertos for it. Here we get one of Vivaldi's most popular concertos: 'La Notte' is one of many pieces of a descriptive character, and the flute is perfectly suited to bring out the effects Vivaldi used to illustrate the various features of the night.

Jean-Marie Leclair, who had started his career as a dancing master, turned to the violin and took lessons from Giovanni Battista Somis in Turin. He adopted the Italian style which he mixed with French elements, which made him one of the most prominent representatives of the goûts réunis of his time. His contributions to the genre of the solo concerto were substantial: the six violin concertos Op. 7 of 1737, followed by a second set in 1740, are considered the pinnacle of what was written in France in the first half of the 18th century. In some of his violin sonatas Leclair suggested the transverse flute as an alternative, and he does the same in the third concerto of the Op. 7. It is the most 'French' of the six concertos, and here Leclair largely avoids the typical violinistic virtuosity of his violin music in favour of a more elegant and expressive idiom.

In the oeuvre of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach the flute plays a major role. He wrote many sonatas for the flute, either with basso continuo or with obbligato keyboard. The flute also participates in ensembles of various instruments; among the best known are the quartets which he composed in the year of his death. The six flute concertos date from early in his career. Later on he arranged three of them for cello, and all six for his own use as keyboard concertos. For a number of years Bach was in the service of Frederick the Great as harpsichordist, accompanying the king when he played sonatas and concertos on his beloved flute. Whether Bach's concertos were written for him or even played by Frederick is impossible to say. It is known that the king did not really appreciate the compositions of his harpsichordist. It was not that the flute concertos were technically too difficult: Frederick was a very skilled flautist. He rather did not understand the very personal musical language of Emanuel. The Concerto in d minor is one of the best-known of the six, and shows the contrasts - here between the slow and the two fast movements - for which his music is known.

Frederick generelly preferred the sonatas and concertos of his flute teacher, Johann Joachim Quanz, who wrote a famous treatise on playing the flute, and composed numerous sonatas and concertos for the instrument. As is the case with other composers who have become best-known for their treatises (Fux, Leopold Mozart), his compositional oeuvre is not that well-known and is often underrated. It is my experience that the impact of Quantz's sonatas and concertos very much depends on the way they are played. As he was a representative of the galant idiom, one is probably inclined to consider them as light-weight pieces that go in one ear and out the other. However, there is much more to such music than one may think. The Concerto in D performed here is a good example of a piece which is entertaining and captivating if it is performed in a differentiated manner as is the case here. The use of a true historical instrument adds something special to it.

France was a country where the flute was extremely popular. A lot of music was written, especially for amateurs. Solo concertos were mostly intended for professionals, and Michel Blavet was one of the foremost on the flute. He performed many times at the Concert Spirituel, probably mostly concertos of his own pen, but unfortunately only one concerto has come down to us. No wonder that it has been recorded many times, but it could not be omitted here. In contrast to the concerto by Leclair, it was conceived as a flute concerto. The common feature is a balanced mixture of French and Italian elements, the latter in the fast movements, the former in the central movement, which is a pair of gavottes.

The disc ends with a very small piece by Robert Woodcock, who was a professional player of woodwind instruments. The Concerto in e minor is taken from a set of twelve concertos for different wind instruments: six are for one or two recorders, three for transverse flute and three for oboe. The three flute concertos are the first ever printed; the collection was published one year before Vivaldi's Op. 10. The flute was a relatively new instrument in England at the time, and it does not surprise that six concertos in the collection are for recorder. Woodcock is stylistically influenced by Italy but also by Handel.

This concerto brings this interesting and compelling survey of the flute concerto repertoire to a close. This disc is a worthy sequel to the previous one, and again Ashley Solomon is an enthusiastic and skilful guide through this landscape of flute music. His performances do full justice to the different features of the selected concertos. The ensemble Florilegium plays with one instrument per part. That may well reflect the practice in many parts of Europe, although a larger line-up is certainly defendable, especially in the concerto by CPE Bach. However, the line-up here results in a perfect balance between the flute and the strings, which is all the more appropriate as the flutes differ in character. As the booklet includes details about the various instruments, the attentive listener might discover their individual characteristics. In one review I read that the booklet includes pictures of the instruments. The reviewer probably referred to the physical booklet, as my digital booklet does not include any pictures of the flutes. That is a bit of a shame, but the performances are the most important thing, and these are superb.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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