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"Albinoni's Venice - Venetian Flute Music"

Michael Form, recorder; Dirk Börner, harpsichord

rec: June 28 - July 1, 2018, Mulhouse (F), Temple St Jean
Pan Classics - PC 10405 (© 2019) (74'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Concerto di camera in a minor; Sonata VI in a minor, op. 6,6 [1]; Paolo Benedetto BELLINZANI (c1690-1757): Sonata XII in d minor [3]; Dirk BÖRNER (*1966): Toccata and fugue on a theme of Albinoni; Ignazio SIEBER (before 1680-c1757) / Antonio VIVALDI: Sonata in a minor (ed. Michael Form); Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Sonata IV in B flat, op. 2,4 [2]; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Sonata in c minor (after RV 8, 6, 3 & 44) (ed. Michael Form)

Sources: [1] Tomaso Albinoni, Trattenimenti armonici per camera, op. 6, c1712; [2] Francesco Maria Veracini, Sonate a Violino, o Flauto solo, e Basso, 1716; [3] Paolo Benedetto Bellinzani, Sonate a Flauto solo con Cembalo, o Violoncello, op. 3, 1720

If we find the word flauto in Italian music, it is not always easy to decide which instrument is meant. It could refer to the recorder (sometimes called flauto diritto) or to the transverse flute. It seems that the recorder was still very much in vogue in Italy in the early decades of the 18th century, whereas elsewhere in Europe it was in the process of becoming obsolete and being overshadowed by the transverse flute. It is telling that when Vivaldi published his concertos Op. 10 in Amsterdam in 1729, the recorder parts in concertos he had written earlier, were adapted for the transverse flute. According to New Grove, until about 1735 composers specifically added traverso to indicate the 'new' flute. If that is correct, we have to interpret the word flauto in the titles of the pieces on the present disc as being intended for the recorder.

The subtitle is "Venetian Flute Music". In this case the flute is a recorder or, rather, several recorders, as listed in the booklet. However, only part of the music included in the programme was intended for the recorder. That goes in particular for the Sonata in d minor by Paolo Benedetto Bellinzani. He was from Ferrara and worked for most of his life as a maestro di cappella at several churches across Italy. In 1727 he was admitted as a composer to the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, a clear token of his reputation. His twelve sonatas Op. 3 were published in Venice in 1728. The last sonata of this set is notable as it ends with a series of variations on the well-known La Folia tune. It seems likely that this was inspired by Arcangelo Corelli, who closed his set of solo sonatas for violin Op. 5 also with variations on that same tune, or Vivaldi, who did the same in his set of trio sonatas Op. 2. However, whereas they confined themselves to such variations, here the conventional structure of the sonata is observed: it opens with a largo, which is followed by a movement without tempo indication. Then, surprisingly, Bellinzani inserts a short harpsichord solo, with the addition "per respiro del flauto" - to give the flutist some time to recover.

Francesco Maria Veracini was generally considered one of the greatest violinists of his time (a verdict he fully agreed with). Although he composed some vocal music (most of which is lost), he has become almost exclusively known for his instrumental music, which is intended for his own instrument. Therefore it may be a little surprising that the set, from which the Sonata IV in B flat is taken, specifically mentions the violin and the recorder as alternatives. The writing of these sonatas does not give a clue as to which instrument Veracini preferred. They were published in Venice in 1716, and a copy has been preserved in Dresden, apparently as part of the library of the Dresden court chapel.

Tomaso Albinoni was one of the major composers in Venice, alongside Vivaldi and Benedetto Marcello, although different in that he, being of aristocratic birth, was never in the service of a church or a patron, and called himself a dilettante. His chamber music is exclusively written for strings. The Sonata in a minor is taken from the collection of six sonatas for violin and basso continuo, which was printed in London in 1711 under the title of Trattenimenti armonici per camera. This particular sonata has also survived in various copies, which attests to its popularity. The disc ends with a curious piece by Albinoni, which is of doubtful authenticity. Michael Form, in his liner-notes, points out the stylistic differences between the two outer movements and the aria (with the tempo indication andante) in the middle. He adds that it " has survived in an English manuscript currently in the private possession of a Swiss music publishing firm which does not permit perusal of the original. It was therefore not possible to undertake further research to establish the authenticity of this chamber concerto, which is not typical of Albinoni". I find that attitude by the unmentioned publishing firm incomprehensible. What may be the reason to prevent scholars from having a look at such a manuscript?

The two remaining pieces are two sonatas which Form put together from various sonatas by Vivaldi and Ignazio Sieber. The Sonata in c minor comprises four movements, taken from Vivaldi's sonatas RV 3, 6, 8 and 44. The Sonata in a minor is again in four movements. The second and third are taken from Vivaldi's violin sonatas RV 32 and 25 respectively. The first movement is taken from a recorder sonata by Ignazio Sieber, who was for some time maestro di oboe at the Ospedale della Pietà and as such a colleague of Vivaldi. This preludio is an arrangement of the 'Domine Deus' from Vivaldi's Gloria in D. The closing movement is a mixture of the capriccio from Sieber's sonata and Vivaldi's concerto for strings RV 127.

Dirk Börner contributes to the improvisatory part of this disc by playing his own .Toccata and fugue on a theme of Albinoni in d minor. The inspiration is the fact that Johann Sebastian Bach composed four fugues on subjects by Albinoni. This fugue is for four voices.

Some aspects of performance practice need to be mentioned here. First, the performers create strong contrasts between the fast and the slow movements. Second, in particular in the slow movements, Michael Form adds a lot of ornaments. He justifies this practice by referring to a collection of Vivaldi's violin sonatas once owned by the composer's former pupil Anna Maria, who added her own ornamentation to some of these concertos. Third, the performers believe that a basso continuo group of cello and keyboard has become tradition from the middle of the 18th century onwards. Therefore they decided to confine themselves to the keyboard.

The recording projects by these two artists stand out for their creativity. They seldom come up with conventional stuff. They pay special attention to aspects of performance practice that are often overlooked or ignored. They like to explore the freedom of performers of the early 18th century, for instance by adding material of their own to what has been written down or mixing various pieces. Obviously, such freedom can easily be abused, and we should certainly not return to the old times, when performers did what they liked. I would like liner-notes to be more specific in discussing these aspects of performance practice.

The playing of Michael Form and Dirk Börner is, as always, excellent. Their creativity is not confined to the way they approach the repertoire, but also concerns their style of playing. There is not a dull moment here, and especially those who love the recorder should add this disc to their collection. I am sure they will regularly return to it.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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