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CD reviews


Simon Borutzki & Ensemble

rec: August 20 - 23, 2018, Berlin-Wannsee, Andreaskirche
Klanglogo - KL1528 (© 2019) (77'00")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Concerto da camera in a minor; Tomaso ALBINONI / Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) / Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750): 'Sonata Pasticcio'; Pietro CASTRUCCI (1679-1752): Sonata in d minor, op. 1,10; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Cantata per flauto in B flat; Giuseppe SAMMARTINI: Sinfonia a flauto solo e basso in e minor (transposed to d minor) (Parma, No. 14); Sonata in F (Sibley No. 23); Leonardo VINCI (1690-1730): Sonata in c minor; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata in a minor (RV 43)

Simon Borutzli, recorder; Lee Rahel Bader, cello; Magnus Andersson, lute, guitar; Daniel Trumbull, harpsichord, organ

Recorder players are always looking for new music to play, beyond the common stuff, such as the sonatas by Handel and Telemann and the concertos by Vivaldi. The repertoire is limited, if one compares it with the concertos and sonatas written for the violin or the transverse flute. Some performers go into archives and libraries, hoping to find pieces that were not known before. Others turn to pieces which were originally intended for other instruments and adapt them to the recorder, sometimes transposing them into a more comfortable key. The disc under review here is a bit of a mixture of the two approaches. The programme includes some items that are little known, but also pieces that were conceived for other instruments.

The two sonatas that open and close the programme are of the first category. Giuseppe Sammartini was educated as an oboist, and moved to England in the late 1720s. There he was generally considered the best oboist the world had ever heard. Little music for oboe has been preserved, as this instrument was seldom played by amateurs, and therefore there was no market for concertos and sonatas for the oboe. However, his oeuvre also includes 29 sonatas for alto recorder and basso continuo, which have been preserved in two manuscripts, in Parma (Italy) and Rochester (N.Y., USA) respectively. They were probably written before Sammartini settled in London. These are quite remarkable pieces: they are technically challenging, but also notable for their many melodic twists and turns. Sammartini shows here that he was a very original mind, as the sonatas are devoid of any commonplaces - in the neutral sense of the word - which one finds in music of his contemporaries. Any lover of the recorder, who listens to these two sonatas, will certainly be interested in what is to become a complete recording of the 29 sonatas by the German recorder player Andreas Böhlen. The first volume was released in 2020.

Melodic and harmonic surprises are also present in the second item in the programme, the Concerto da camera in a minor by Tomaso Albinoni. According to Jan-Geert Wolff, in his liner-notes, it was discovered in a collection of Italian manuscripts. It has been recorded before, but it is hardly known and I can't remember ever having heard it. Unfortunately, the liner-notes don't indicate whether this piece was originally intended for the recorder or for some other instrument. The third piece certainly was not intended for the recorder: like Sammartini, Pietro Castrucci worked for most of his life in England; he spent his last years in Dublin. He was educated as a violinist and may have been a pupil of Corelli. His oeuvre comprises mainly music for his own instrument as well as concerti grossi. His work-list in New Grove mentions a set of sonatas for flute, but the Sonata in d minor is taken from the Op. 1, a set of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo.

With Johann Adolf Hasse we go to Naples, where he spent some time as an opera composer. The Cantata per flauto is a sonata in three movements, which is part of a large collection of recorder music, once owned by Count Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach, Austrian nobleman and viceroy of Naples. Apparently he, or someone in his household, was an avid and skilled recorder player. Interestingly, Naples was a centre of the playing of and composing for the recorder in Italy. Leonardo Vinci is another Neapolitan composer, best known for his operas. The Sonata in a minor included here is taken from a collection of sonatas by various composers, scored for recorder with violin as alternative.

Antonio Vivaldi is not represented with one of his original pieces for recorder, but rather a cello sonata. It is part of a collection of six sonatas, published in Paris in 1740. It includes some notes which require overblowing to be realised on the recorder. From that angle this is one of the least successful items on this disc. Castrucci's sonata comes off much better as does the so-called 'Sonata pasticcio', put together from different works by Simon Borutzki. A movement from a violin sonata by Albinoni, a keyboard sonata by Domenico Scarlatti and movements from three different sonatas by Sammartini result in a rather nice piece. As this practice is historically documented, there is no basic objection against such a procedure.

Simon Borutzki is a very fine and creative artist. I have had the pleasure of listening to previous recordings of this German recorder player. There is not a dull moment here, and that is due to the music but also to his engaging and brilliant playing, and the immaculate cooperation with his colleagues. However, there are a few issues I need to mention. I already stated that the choice of Vivaldi's cello sonata was not particularly convincing. Sammartini's Sinfonia in c minor which opens the programme, was transposed to d minor, "making the music more brilliant and powerful". This is something I find hard to accept. Transposing is a legitimate practice if one wants to make a piece playable on another instrument than the one for which it was originally intended. But here the performer basically thinks that the composer has chosen the wrong key. If it is not brilliant enough to your taste, select a different sonata. This issue brings me to the instruments Borutzki plays. The booklet says that they have been copied after Bressan and Denner, but it adds that four of them are 'revoiced' by the copyist, Sebastian Meyer. One may wonder what that means. The booklet says that these instruments are especially made for Borutzki. "The tones of the Meyer recorders are much more powerful, voluminous, and richer in depth. Maître flûtier Ernst Meyer (...) says: "Our recorders are good when they don't sound like recorders"." One may ask in what way his instruments are real copies then. Doesn't the 'revoicing' in fact mean that these instruments are basically modern inventions rather than 'period instruments'? And if the latter is indeed the case, are these performances products of 'historical performance practice'?

I don't want to answer these questions on the basis of this rather scarce information in the booklet. However, if you are interested in the recorder and its music, you should be aware of these issues. It does not compromise my appreciation of the performances on this disc, but at least raises some serious questions.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Luigi Accardo
Gian Andrea Guerra

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