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"Grand Tour"

Cicerone Ensemble

rec: Feb 25 - 27, 2018, Neumarkt i.d. Oberpfalz (D)
Genuin - GEN 19648 (© 2019) (72'33")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jean-Baptiste BARRIÈRE (1707-1747): Sonata a 3 for cello [transverse flute] and bc in d minor [5]; Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762): Sonata for cello and bc in C, op. 5,3 [6]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Sonata for transverse flute and bc in G, op. 1,5 (HWV 363b) [3]; Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Passacaglia for keyboard in g minor [1]; Johann Joachim QUANTZ (1697-1773): Sonata for transverse flute and bc in b minor (QV 1,168); Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694-1758): Sonata for transverse flute and bc No 6 in b minor (BeRI 206) [2]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Solo for transverse flute and bc in b minor (TWV 41,h4) [4]

Sources: [1] Georg Muffat, Apparatus musico-organisticus, 1690; [2] Johan Helmich Roman, XII Sonate a flauto traverso, violone e cembalo, c1727; [3] George Frideric Handel, Solos, [op. 1], c1732; [4] Georg Philipp Telemann, Musique de table, I. Production, 1733; [5] Jean Barrière, Sonates pour le violoncelle, avec la basse continüe, Livre IIIe, c1736; [6] Francesco Geminiani, Sonates pour le Violoncelle et Basse continue, op. 5, 1746

Thomas Wormitt, transverse flute; Adrian Cygan, cello; Andreas Gilger, harpsichord

One of the features of our time is mobility. Travelling is often easy, comfortable and financially within the reach of an increasing number of people. In earlier times, travelling was rather slow and often very uncomfortable. The liner-notes to the present disc open with a quotation from the second volume of Charles Burney's The Present State of Music, in which he describes the trials and tribulations of his tour across Europe.

Taking this into account, it is remarkable how often performing musicians and composers moved from one place to another, either looking for work or in order to broaden their (musical) horizon. The latter was also the goal of young people from aristocratic circles, who went on a grand tour as part of their education. It is this widespread practice from the Renaissance unto well into the 18th century, which the title of the present disc refers to. The composers represented in the programme had in common that they never stayed at the same place, although the frequency and the distance of their travelling was very different.

From a stylistic point of view the mobility of musicians is quite interesting. There was much difference in style between especially France and Italy. There was a strong antagonism between them during the 17th century, and it was only after the turn of the century that the French gradually embraced the influences from Italy. However, it is questionable whether that acceptance was universal; there were still those who lamented the loss of the true French style.

French composers went to Italy to improve their skills in playing the violin (Jean-Marie Leclair) or the cello (Jean-Baptiste Barrière). The latter is included in the programme recorded by the Cicerone Ensemble, but it is a bit of a shame that his Sonata in d minor is performed here on the transverse flute. Fortunately we hear another specimen of the art of the cello in the Sonata in C, op. 5,3 by Francesco Geminiani, one of many Italian composers who went to England, where Italian music was very much sought after. London was one of the places to be for a musician during the first half of the 18th century. This explains why Johan Helmich Roman, the first Swedish-born professional composer in history, stayed in London from 1715 to 1721 at the instigation of King Charles XII in order to perfect his skills. In London he played in the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music under George Frideric Handel as one of the second violinists. He also became acquainted with famous masters of that time, like Giovanni Bononcini, Francesco Geminiani and Francesco Maria Veracini. That sheds light on another effect of mobility: composers and performers came into contact with colleagues from other parts of Europe and became acquainted with different styles and ways of composing and performing.

Whether Roman ever met Georg Philipp Telemann is not known; it seems unlikely, as Telemann did not travel that often. Fact is that when in 1726 Roman announced the publication of a set of twelve sonatas for transverse flute and basso continuo, Telemann acted as one of his agents. The German himself had many contacts across Germany and beyond. One of his friends was George Frideric Handel, who was one of the subscribers of his own printed editions, such as the Musique de table, from which the Ensemble Cicerone plays the Solo in b minor. He was one of many composers who explored the increasing popularity of the transverse flute, especially among amateurs. This also explains why Roman, himself not a flautist, chose this instrument for his twelve sonatas.

Chamber music was mostly aimed at amateurs. As they may have played a variety of instruments, such as recorder, transverse flute or violin, composers usually wrote their sonatas in such a way that they were playable on a variety of instruments. They sometimes offered different options on the title pages of their editions. In other cases they - or their publishers - adapted their sonatas for different instruments. In particular in the oeuvre of Handel we find several versions of sonatas. The Sonata in G included here is an example of that: it was originally conceived as an oboe sonata, but among amateurs that was a less common instrument than the transverse flute. Whether Handel himself was responsible for the flute version is probably impossible to say; it seems likely that it was rather the publisher.

The frequent travelling and many contacts between musicians resulted in a mutual influence between the various styles. That is what happened in France, when the Italian style became increasingly popular and also in Germany, where Telemann and Bach were among the supporters of a 'mixed taste', as was their French colleague François Couperin. The pioneer of the goûts réunis was Georg Muffat, who first had stayed in France, where he studied the music and performance practice of Jean-Baptiste Lully, and then went to Rome, where he became acquainted with the music of Arcangelo Corelli. Therefore he had to be included in the programme, but as he left no chamber music, except one sonata for violin and basso continuo, the performers turned to a keyboard work, the Passacaglia in g minor. In a different way, that makes much sense: despite all the differences between 'national' styles in the 17th century, the use of bassi ostinati (called grounds in England), such as the passacaglia (passacaille) or the ciacona (chaconne) was universal.

The disc ends with a representative of a different generation. Johann Joachim Quantz was the flute teacher of his employer, Frederick the Great of Prussia, for whom he may have written most of his concertos and sonatas for the transverse flute. In his life we see the change in taste, as he was educated on the oboe, the trumpet and string instruments, but turned to the flute, when he could not find employment as an oboist. He developed into the main promoter of the flute, for instance through his treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen. Part of his musical education were visits to Italy, France and England. His Sonata in b minor has the structure which became the standard in Berlin at the mid-18th century: it is in three movements in the order slow - fast - fast.

How to perform music from such different regions? That is one of the things Andreas Gilger discusses in his liner-notes. "To what degree did Handel's performance style consist of what he first learned in Germany, how much of an influence did his time in Italy have, and finally, how did he mix these with the style he encountered in London? Surely he would have taken elements from each distinct school of playing and created from those elements his own personal style." He then rightly states: "The nature of musical performance means that a great deal of information is lost over time, and what we have can be far from unambiguous. If for instance we read that Geminiani was prone to playing with a tempo rubato that made it impossible for other Italian musicians to follow his playing, we do not yet know the exact extent of those fluctuations because we lack a frame of reference. What seems extreme to a modern musician who grows up under the reign of the metronome might have appeared very tame to a musician of the eighteenth century."

It is interesting to note that the performers have extensively studied the information that has come down to us, and try to incorporate this into their style of playing, even if sometimes "educated guesswork" cannot be avoided. I am happy to say that their research has resulted in excellent, differentiated and often outright exciting performances. One of the main features of their interpretations is their treatment of tempo. They emphasize the differences between slow and fast tempi. The menuetto which closes Handel's Sonata in G is played in a very fast tempo, and so are the closing allegro from Geminiani's cello sonata and the presto which brings Quantz's sonata to a close. In several movements the players slow down and accelerate the tempo, for instance in the allegro from Handel's sonata, in the first allegro from Telemann's Solo in b minor and in Muffat's passacaglia. Another feature which I rate very positively, is the clear distinction between notes through dynamic accents, reflecting the difference of weight between one note and another. A perfect example of this is the first allegro from Geminiani's cello sonata. The ensuing affectuoso bears witness to the ensemble's expressive playing in slower movements.

Gilger sums up what the ensemble's performances are about. "[Our] aim has been to record music in the spirit of and adhering to the information surviving from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This means using the tools and techniques provided by treatises and other sources to achieve a result that is, through its rhetorical delivery, emotionally moving. Historical accuracy, as far as we can take it, is merely one of the ingredients here, albeit an indispensable one." They have succeeded with flying colours.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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Cicerone Ensemble

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