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Arcangelo CORELLI & Leonardo LEO: Sonatas for recorder

[I] Arcangelo CORELLI (1653 - 1713): "Six Sonatas opus 5 no. 7-12"
Michala Petri, recorder; Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord
rec: May 5 - 8, 2014, Copenhagen, Garnisons Kirke
OUR Recordings - 6.220610 ( 2014) (66'22")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata in C (after Sonata in A, op. 5,9); Sonata in G (after Sonata in F, op. 5,10); Sonata in G (after Sonata in E, op. 5,11); Sonata in g minor (after Sonata in d minor, op. 5,7); Sonata in g minor (after Sonata in e minor, op. 5,8); Sonata in g minor 'La Folia' (after Sonata in d minor, op. 5,12)

[II] Leonardo LEO (1694 - 1744): "Recorder Sonatas"
Ensemble Barocco di Napoli
rec: June 8 - 10, 2013, Naples, Chiesa dell'Arciconfraternita di S. Maria Visita Poveri e dei SS. Bernardo e Margherita (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Graziella)
Stradivarius - Str 33969 ( 2014) (58'54")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in Facd; Sonata II in Cad; Sonata III in d minorac; Sonata IV in Fd; Sonata V in Fbc; Sonata VI in g minorac; Sonata VII in d minoracd

Tommaso Rossi, recorder; Marco Vitali, celloa; Raffaele di Donna, bass recorderb; Ugo di Giovanni, archlutec; Patrizia Varone, harpsichordd

The recorder was one of the main instruments in the late renaissance and the early baroque period. In the first decades of the 18th century it met with increasing competition from the transverse flute and around the middle of the century it had become obsolete in most parts of Europe. It is notable, however, that it remained one of the favourite instruments of amateurs. That was especially the case in England, where it was played until the end of the century. In the early decades of the century still many collections of music for the recorder were printed. Some of them included arrangements of music originally written for other instruments. The chamber music by Arcangelo Corelli was particularly popular. His music was played across Europe, but in England probably more than anywhere else. The fact that amateurs loved to play his sonatas and the unbroken popularity of the recorder explains the many arrangements of his compositions for recorder.

Michala Petri and Mahan Esfahani have played the sonatas 7 to 12 from the opus 5, a collection of sonatas for violin and bc which was printed in Rome in 1700. One of the features of the many arrangements of these sonatas is the addition of ornaments. The performers have taken ornaments from different sources. Among the composers/arrangers are Geminiani - who spent much of his career in England -, Dubourg and Festing. They admit that no performer in those days would have mixed ornaments from different sources in one performance. Moreover, the more skilled performers added ornaments of their own invention. From a historical perspective the procedure followed here is unsatisfying.

That goes also for the performance. It is a mystery to me why Mahan Esfahani is willing to cooperate with Michala Petri. The latter has most strongly profiled herself as an interpreter of contemporary music and has never been part of historical performance practice. It is unlikely she plays copies of baroque recorders; the booklet doesn't mention any originals as the models for her recorders. As far as the interpretation is concerned, the two artists seem to act on different wavelenghts. Esfahani articulates according to historical principles and makes a clear distinction between good and bad notes. Nothing of that is noticeable in Ms Petri's performance. Her playing is rather straightforward, without interpunction. She doesn't let her recorder speak, there is hardly any dynamic shading on long-held notes and she mostly plays legato.

This performance focuses on the virtuosic character of these sonatas, but that was not their main attraction for aficionados of the recorder in those days. If you look for a good recording of Corelli's sonatas on the recorder, you should look elsewhere.

Not only in England the recorder was very popular, but also in Naples. The best-known collection of Neapolitan recorder music is a manuscript of 24 concerti da camera known as Manoscritto di Napoli 1725. Among the composers represented there are Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Mancini. The latter also published a collection of twelve recorder sonatas in London.

It is not so easy to explain why so much music for the recorder was written in Naples. The Italian musicologist Dinko Fabris has suggested it could be due to a visit to Naples by the German flautist Johann Joachim Quantz in 1725. However, it is hard to see why an exponent of the transverse flute would have stimulated the composing for the recorder which in other parts of the world was on the way to becoming obsolete. Moreover, in his liner-notes to his recording Tommaso Rossi states that the archives of the Neapolitan conservatories "testify to the presence of the recorder as early as 1704 among the wind instruments taught". He adds: "One infers an important role for the recorder also from examining the scores [of] operas and serenades of the period 1710-1730, where its use is linked to the evocation of pastoral and bucolic scenes, with an evident descriptive role".

The seven sonatas by Leonardo Leo are recorded here for the first time, with the exception of the Sonata III in d minor which was included by Daniel Rothert in the programme of his disc 'Tesori di Napoli'. They are from a collection which was put together by the Austrian Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach (1669-1742) who from 1728 to 1733 was Viceroy of the kingdom of Naples - from 1707 Naples had been occupied by Austria - and was a great lover of music and sponsor of the arts. Today the greater part of the collection is preserved in the New York Public Library; other sources have remained in the Harrach Family Archive in the Austrian State Archives. Why the collection includes a remarkable number of recorder pieces is impossible to say. The Viceroy may have played the instrument himself - in that case he must have been a quite skilful player - or he may have had a recorder player in his household.

The fact that Leo composed sonatas for the recorder is equally remarkable as he was first and foremost a composer of vocal music, in particular operas. The work-list in New Grove includes a long list of operas, serenatas, prologues, feste teatrali, sacred dramas and oratorios as well as a considerable number of sacred works. To that many chamber cantatas, arias and duets can be added but these have not been completely sorted out as yet. In comparison the roster of instrumental works is rather short, and doesn't include any recorder sonatas. His best-known instrumental works are six cello concertos which belong to the standard repertoire of the baroque cello today.

If a composer has such credentials in the realm of opera one may expect operatic traits in his instrumental music. That is certainly the case in his cello concertos as well as in these recorder sonatas. Some of the fast movements in particular include unmistakable theatrical gestures, and some slow movements are quite expressive. Those features come across quite well in these performances. Rossi sometimes slightly varies the tempo in the interest of expression. He could have gone even a step further; here and there I felt that key moments could have been emphasized by slowing down the tempo and giving them more weight. A particularly notable aspect of these performances is the differentiation in the scoring of the basso continuo, reflecting a variety in the performance practice of the time. In the Sonata I, for instance, it is performed by cello, archlute and harpsichord, but in the Sonata IV we hear only the harpsichord. Especially interesting is the Sonata V where the archlute is joined by the bass recorder, a quite unusual choice for the scoring of the basso continuo part.

This is a very fine disc which I have greatly enjoyed. Recorder aficionados will love it.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

Relevant links:

Mahan Esfahani
Michala Petri
Tommaso Rossi
Ensemble Barocco di Napoli

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