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"The Gentleman's Flute - Handel arias in 18th century arrangements for recorder and basso continuo"

Stefan Temmingh, recorder & Ensemble

rec: April 12 - 15, 2010, Starnberg, Malteser Stift St. Josef
Oehms - OC 772 ( 2010) (63'31")

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Sonata for recorder and bc in g minor, op. 1,2 (HWV 360); Stefan TEMMINGH (after George Frideric HANDEL): Alcina (HWV 34): Credete al mio dolore; Di te mi rido; musette; Tornami a vagheggiar; Un momento di contento; Verdi prati; Alexander Balus (HWV 65): Convey me to some peaceful shore; Amadigi di Gaula (HWV 11): Tu mia speranza; Giulio Cesare in Egitto (HWV 17): V'adoro, pupille; Rinaldo (HWV 7): overture; Bel piacere; Il vostro maggio; Lascia ch'io pianga; Sulla ruota di fortuna; Venti turbini; Saul (HWV 53): sinfonia

Domen Marincic, viola da gamba; Lyndon Watts, bassoon; Axel Wolf, lute, theorbo; Loredana Gintoli, harp; Olga Mishula, psaltery; Olga Watts, harpsichord

This disc sheds light on two features of music life in England in the first half of the 18th century: the popularity of the recorder and the popularity of the operas of George Frideric Handel. The former is more remarkable than the latter. The recorder was an instrument of the 17th century, and in most countries it was gradually going out of fashion during the early 18th century. It is telling that concertos by Vivaldi which were originally scored for recorder were printed with parts for the transverse flute instead.

England was quite conservative in musical matters. The baroque era started later than in any other country in Europe, consort music for viols was still in vogue when it had disappeared everywhere else, and the recorder was holding its ground much longer than in any other country. As late as 1776 the author Sir John Hawkins wrote that a true gentleman should never go out without his recorder. It was an instrument for private performances. As Stefan Temmingh states in the interview in the booklet many players of the recorder must have been quite skilled. The arias from Handel's operas which were printed in arrangements for recorder are often very virtuosic, which is reflected by their wide range of sometimes more than two octaves. He adds that it isn't really suprising that the level of many amateurs was so high. "You have to bear in mind that for the aristocrats of the time, music was an essential part of a general education. And it was a very different kind of education from that today. Players learned to compose their own music from the beginning".

In one respect the English music scene wasn't conservative: the love for Italian opera was huge, and in particular Handel's operas were embraced. This is reflected by the number of arrangements for various scorings of arias from his operas. Recently several discs have been devoted to arrangements for keyboard, for instance by Hank Knox (early-music.com) and John Kitchen (Delphian Records). Stefan Temmingh has devoted this disc to arrangements for recorder. The subtitle of this disc says that it contains "Handel arias in 18th century arrangements for recorder and basso continuo". But this is contradicted by Temmingh in the booklet. "What we have done is to re-arrange Handel according to the sources of the time for soloist recorder and basso continuo without the usual orchestra which, of course, would not have fitted into their living rooms. So new pieces are born and the arias are presented in completely new versions". Temmingh made use of contemporary arrangements, like those for keyboard by William Babell. But he has used them - and other arrangements - freely and incorporated them into his own arrangements. This also explains that Handel isn't mentioned as composer at the title page.

"'The Gentleman's Flute' is a compilation evolved from the idea of a musical party in London, transposed to Temmingh's circle of musical friends." Strictly speaking this means that this disc can hardly be assessed with historical criteria. One could ask, for instance, if the harp was played by amateurs in musical parties, either solo or in the basso continuo. Even more questionable is the use of a psaltery. Asked about its participation Temmingh says: "For me, the psaltery has an exciting and sparkling sound quality - Vivaldi, for example, used it in his operas. (...) Some enthusiast might have possessed one even in 18th century London". This is pure speculation. The article on the psaltery in New Grove doesn't make any mention of this instrument being played in England. The reference to Vivaldi is also inaccurate: he used the psaltery only once in a single aria in one of his operas. Temmingh should have said: I have used it, because I like it.

In the end it is the quality of the playing which counts. And in that respect there is nothing to complain here. In previous recordings I have already noted that Temmingh is a virtuosic and technically brilliant player. He also has a very good understanding of stylistic matters as, for instance, his ornamentation shows. He uses no less than nine different recorders: descant, alto, fourth flute and voice flute. The musicians surrounding him are his equals on their instruments. Domen Marincic gives a good account of the only aria performed at another instrument than the recorder, 'Un momento di contento' from Alcina. I have only two points of criticism to make. Firstly, the psaltery has too much presence in 'Venti turbini' from Rinaldo. In the last movement of the Sonata in g minor Stefan Temmingh plays often staccato which I don't understand and which is not very nice.

This disc will certainly appeal to recorder aficionados. Admirers of Handel's operas will be delighted to hear so many famous arias in this outfit.

Johan van Veen ( 2011)

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