musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Vivaldiana - Venetian Flute Music by Vivaldi & his contemporaries"

Michael Form, recordera; Delphine Biron, cellob; Mélanie Flahaut, bassoonc; Dirk Börner, harpsichordd, organe

rec: July 2011, Paris, Salle Gaveau
Pan Classics - PC 10255 (© 2011) (79'23")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1750): Sonata da chiesa for recorder and bc in e minor (after op. 4,1)ace [1]; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Prelude and fugue in b minor (BWV 951)d; Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739) & Alessandro MARCELLO (1669-1747): Sonata for recorder and bc in d minor (after C 740, 749, 762 & D 935)ad; Sonata for recorder and bc in F, op. 2,12 (ciaccona)acd [2]; Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Sonata VI for recorder/violin and bc in a minorad [3]; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-141): Sonata for recorder and bc in F (RV 52)ace; Sonata for recorder, bassoon and bc in a minor (RV 86)acd; Antonio VIVALDI & Ignazio SIEBER (before 1680-c1757): Sonata for recorder and bc in f minor (after RV 14, 16, 143 & 621)abe

Source: [1] Tomaso Albinoni, Sonate da chiesa, [op. 4], c1708; [2] Benedetto Marcello, Suonate, op. 2, 1712; [3] Francesco Maria Veracini, Sonate a Violino, o Flauto solo, e Basso, 1716

Antonio Vivaldi hasn't written very much for the recorder. Most recordings include the same handful of concertos, and there are hardly any sonatas for recorder to find in his oeuvre. That isn't so much due to the fact that he didn't play the instrument himself. As far as we know he also didn't play the oboe or the bassoon, but that didn't withhold him from composing a large number of works for either of them. The main reason is that the recorder was in the process of being overshadowed by the modern transverse flute. Several of Vivaldi's concerti da camera include a part for recorder, but when they were published this part was adapted for the transverse flute. Vivaldi wasn't the only composer who wrote little for the recorder. It is largely the same story with other composers from Venice as this disc shows.

I was a little tempted to mention Michael Form as the composer of most pieces on this disc as there are very few original pieces for recorder. In many cases the way the sonatas on the programme have been put together is quite complicated. I'll try to describe what exactly has been done here.
The programme opens with one of the few original pieces, Vivaldi's Sonata in a minor (RV 86). It is a rare example of a sonata with a recorder part, and the combination with a bassoon is even more curious. Vivaldi may have written many concertos for the bassoon, no sonatas for this instrument from his pen are known. It is a beautiful piece with demanding parts for both solo instruments. Next follows the other sonata which was originally written for the recorder, from a set of 12 dating from 1716. It is a typical Veracini piece, of considerable virtuosity, and with many idiosynacracies, for instance in the harmonic progressions of the opening largo.

The third sonata is by Tomaso Albinoni, not from, but after his opus 4. In about 1708 Estienne Roger in Amsterdam printed a collection of six Sonate da chiesa with Tomaso Albinoni as the composer. When it was reprinted the sonatas were given the opus number 4. Although the sonatas are based on material by Albinoni, Michael Form states in his liner notes that the composer was unaware of the appearance of this set. Material from the Sonata I return in another collection of unauthorised sonatas which was printed in 1717 as well as in the authentic Trattenimenti armonici per camera op. 6 of around 1712. All three collections are for violin and bc. From these three sources Michael Form has created the Sonata in e minor for his own instrument. The very fact that music was printed under Albinoni's name is a clear indication of his high reputation. Johann Sebastian Bach was also inspired by him as his Preludio e Fuga in b minor (BWV 951 shows. The fugue is based on a chromatic theme from Albinoni's opus 1, a set of 12 Suonate a tre, printed in Venice in 1694.

The Sonata in f minor is only partly based on material by Vivaldi. Another contributor is Ignazio Sieber, who from 1713 to 1715 worked at the Ospedale della Pietŕ as maestro di oboe. He reworked the first movement for recorder and adapted the third movement (sarabanda) from material in Vivaldi's Stabat mater. This is adapted again by Michael Form. The second movement is taken from one of the violin sonatas of Vivaldi's opus 2, whereas the last movement is based on Vivaldi's Concerto for strings RV 143 and Siebert's own Sonata II. The Sonata in F (RV 52) is Vivaldi's only original sonata for recorder and bc, and is probably an occasional work. It is in three movements; the last is a very short aria di giga with only two sections of four bars each. The manuscript which contains Vivaldi's sonata also includes a comparable movement by another author. It has inspired Michael Form to extend Vivaldi's giga to a piece of 26 bars, with material borrowed from the Sonata in C (RV 1) for violin and bc and the Concerto in C (RV 192a) for violin, strings and bc.

The remaining two pieces in the programme are by Benedetto Marcello, another Venetian composer. In 1712 a collection of 12 recorder sonatas was published in Amsterdam. Michael Form has decided not to play one of them, but create another sonata by adapting some movements from Marcello's harpsichord sonatas. "A close look at Marcello's harpsichord sonatas suggests that many of these elaborate works go back to original versions, which have not been preserved. Remarkable is the two-part texture which is mostly unsatisfactory for harpsichordists but which are more suitable for a performance by a melody instrument with basso continuo". The first three movements are adaptations of harpsichord pieces, whereas the last movement is an adaptation of the last movement of the famous Concerto in d minor for oboe, strings and bc by Marcello's elder brother Alessandro. For the bass part the performers have turned to Bach's keyboard arrangement of this concerto.

This description makes clear how much the artists have done to realise the programme on this disc. That is what you need to do if you want to play music which does not exist. It is a permanent frustration for recorder players that the repertoire is relatively limited, and in particular from the first part of the 18th century. Adaptation and arrangement were widespread practices in the baroque era, and from that perspective there is not much against what Michael Form has done here. Whether it makes sense and whether it wouldn't be more profitable to look for music by lesser-known composers is a matter of debate. Musically speaking the result is well worth hearing, in particular since these four artists deliver brilliant and inspired performances. One of the attractive aspects is the variation in the scoring of the basso continuo. Today it is common practice to perform the bass part with a keyboard instrument and a cello or gamba, but here it is played by harpsichord alone in several sonatas, and with bassoon and organ in one. The disc ends with an exciting performance of the ciaccona from Marcello's opus 2 set. It sums up the character of this recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

CD Reviews