musica Dei donum
"Una Follia di Napoli - Concerti e Sinfonie per Flauto"
Maurice Steger, recordera;
Fiorenza de Donatisb, Andrea Rognonic, Anaïs Chend, violin;
Stefano Marcocchi, violae;
Mauro Valli, cellof, cello piccolog;
Vanni Moretto, double bassh;
Brigitte Gasser, violettai, viola da gambaj, lironek;
Daniele Caminiti, archlutel, theorbom, guitarn;
Margit Übellacker, dulcimero;
Naoki Kitaya, harpsichordp, organq
rec: Nov 2011, Arlesheim, Église réformée
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902135 (© 2012) (72'40") / (26'20")
Cover & track-list
Francesco BARBELLA (1692-1732):
Sonata III for recorder, 2 violins and bc in Cabcfgjloq ;
Nicola FIORENZA (170-1764):
Sinfonia for recorder, strings and bc in a minorabcefhimop;
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744) (attr):
Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in Gabcefhmnp;
Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737):
Sonata XI for recorder and bc in g minoraflp ;
Domenico SARRO (1679-1744):
Sonata XI for recorder, strings and bc in a minorabcefhmnop ;
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725):
Improvisation upon the Partite Follia di Spagnaafgjklmnop;
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757):
Sinfonia No. 1 for 3 violins and bc in Abcdfhp
 Francesco Mancini, XII Solos for a Flute with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord or Bass Violin, 1724;
 div, Concerti di Flauto, Violini, Violetta e Basso, di Diversi Autori, 
If Naples and the recorder are mentioned in one breath it is usually a manuscript with concertos or sonatas for recorder and strings which springs to mind. It is known as Manoscritto di Napoli 1725, which is the year that is mentioned in the manuscript. It includes 24 pieces, according to the title page Concerti di Flauto, although the individual pieces are called sonata(*). This indicates that at that time these two terms were used more or less indiscriminately. Twelve concertos are from the pen of Francesco Mancini, the other pieces are written by various composers from Naples, among them Alessandro Scarlatti.
In his liner-notes Dinko Fabris makes an attempt to explain the composing of recorder concertos at this particular time. "The Neapolitan repertory for the instrument was virtually non-existent before this date", Fabris writes. That could be true but is hard to prove. It is quite possible that more pieces had been written which have not survived. Let us not forget that soon the recorder would become obsolete, and recorder pieces may have been thrown away.
Even if his assumption is right, his explanation seems to be rather implausible. In 1725 the German flautist Johann Joachim Quantz, the flute teacher of Frederick the Great, visited Naples. Fabris suggests that the flux of recorder concertos may have been a direct effect of his visit. However, Quantz was a player of the transverse flute rather than the recorder, although he probably was well able to play the latter as well. It is hard to see why composers would be inspired by a flute player to write for the recorder. Moreover, the above-mentioned Mancini had already published a set of twelve sonatas for recorder and basso continuo one year earlier. It was printed in London, since England was a centre of recorder playing. In addition, it is quite possible that the concertos in the collection of 1725 were mostly written earlier, well before Quantz' visit.
It is mostly rather hard, if not impossible, to explain why some genres emerge and at some time disappear. It is likely that it was often a matter of supply and demand. For instance, a German aristocrat who was an avid player of the cello commissioned various composers to write cello sonatas and concertos for him. Many sonatas by Caldara, Platti and Vivaldi are the fruit of his demand. Fabris mentions an example of a recorder player who could have asked composers to write music for him. That man was the Austrian Count Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach who stayed in Naples from 1728 to 1733. "After his departure, the Neapolitan repertory for recorder evaporated as quickly as it had once appeared (...)", Fabris writes.
Whatever the reasons for the composing of music for recorder in Naples in the 1720s may have been, recorder players are happy with them. The concertos from the above-mentioned manuscript are of fine quality, and there are also other pieces from Naples available for their instrument. Only two compositions on this disc are from the manuscript of 1725, the concertos by Sarro (or Sarri) and Barbella. The programme also includes one of the sonatas from Mancini's collection of 1724 and a concerto by Nicola Fiorenza. Only a small number of instrumental works from the latter's pen are known, among them the Sinfonia in a minor. He wrote at least one other piece for recorder and strings.
The disc ends with a piece by Leonardo Leo, one of the most prominent composers of Naples in the second quarter of the 18th century. He was most famous for his operas. His instrumental output is rather small; the best-known compositions in this genre are his six cello concertos. The Concerto in G is not included in the work-list in New Grove. The reason is that it is spurious: the German manuscript in which it has been preserved, attributes it to a certain 'Le Cevalier Amadée'. Moreover, it indicates that the solo part is written for the Flauto Traverso. Its character is quite different from the other pieces on this disc. It is modelled after the concertos by Vivaldi, with three movements, whereas the other concertos are in four, after the Corellian sonata da chiesa. The solo part is also more extended and more pronounced. This is no longer an ensemble piece, but a full-blown solo concerto in the modern style which was in fashion in the mid-18th century.
The programme also includes a sinfonia for strings and basso continuo by Domenico Scarlatti, from a collection of 16 which is preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. His father is also represented, with the Follia di Spagna, one of his harpsichord works. Rather, the performers use it as a vehicle for improvisations. I can't quite figure out how they deal with the original material; the liner-notes don't mention it. It is the least convincing part of this recording: the various instruments have their solos, including the psalterium, and that results in a lack of coherence.
Ironically the concerto by Leo, originally intended for the transverse flute, comes off best. The earlier concertos are generally well-played, but unfortunately Maurice Steger's playing is sometimes marred by eccentricities. The third movement from the Sonata in g minor is an example. Steger adds quite a lot of ornamentation which is good, but I feel that he sometimes goes a little over the top. In some movements I signalled some vibrato; I am not sure whether that is used as an ornament. I am also surprised by the amount of legato-playing, especially in the slow movements. The rhythms are not as pronounced as they should be.
On balance this is a nice recording to have, in particular since the repertoire is not that well-known. My enthusiasm is just a little inhibited by some aspects of Steger's playing which I consider as mannerisms which could well get on one's nerves at repeated listening. The DVD offers a documentary from the recording venue with fragments from the programme and Steger talking about the music and his interpretation. Short personal notes in the booklet would have been a better option; otherwise the DVD doesn't add anything essential to the CD and the booklet.
(*) The tracklist of the CD calls the pieces concertos; the header of this review uses the original titles.
Johan van Veen (© 2013)