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Recorder sonatas from England

[I] "The Gerdin Manuscript Uppsala 1758"
Tabea Schwartz, recordera; Thomas Leininger, harpsichord
rec: August 18 - 20, 2020, Grenzach, Evangelische Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10431 (© 2021) (66'29")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Nussen

Pietro CASTRUCCI (1679-1752): Sonata [I] in F (after Sonata in B flat, op. 1,5)a; Sonata [II] in C (after Sonata in A, op. 1,6)a; Sonata [III] in d minor (after Sonata in b minor, op. 1,10)a; Sonata [IV] in G (after Sonata in E, op. 1,11)a; Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762): Sonata [V] in d minor (after Sonata in c minor, op. 1,7)a; Sonata [VI] in G (after Sonata in E, op. 1,10)a; Frederick NUSSEN (fl 1749-1779): A Scotch Tune; All in the downs; Can love be controul'd; T'amo tanto; What shall I do to shew; When young at the bar

Sources: Frederick Nussen, Musica di Camera, op. 3, c1762

[II] John Ernest (Johann Ernst) GALLIARD (1687-1747): "6 Sonatas for Recorder & Harpsichord Op. 1"
Fabiano Martignago, recordera; Angelica Selmo, harpsichord
rec: August 26 - 28, 2020, Locario, San Bonifacio (Verona), La Cappella di San Francesco
Brilliant Classics - 96328 (© 2021) (45'36")
Liner-notes: E/IT
Cover & track-list
Scores Galliard

John Ernst GALLIARD: Sonata in C, op. 1,1a; Sonata in d minor, op. 1,2a; Sonata in e minor, op. 1,3a; Sonata in F, op. 1,4a; Sonata in G, op. 1,5a; Sonata in a minor, op. 1,6a; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Ground in c minor (Z D221); Suite in G (Z 660)

The recorder was one of the major instruments of the 16th and 17th centuries. During the first half of the 18th century it was gradually overshadowed by the transverse flute, but it remained popular among amateurs, probably nowhere more than in England. The two discs under review here attest to that. One may wonder, though, what they have to do with England. The names of the composers don't sound very English, and the first disc focuses on music in a Swedish manuscript with a French title.

Both discs show the international character of the music scene in the early 18th century. The first disc focuses on a manuscript that is preserved in Östersund in Sweden, and is signed "A Upsale le 18 d'Aout 1758". Nothing is known about Georg Gerdin, who was the first owner of the manuscript and very likely also the one who copied the sonatas it includes: four by Pietro Castrucci and two by Francesco Geminiani. His copy may be based on a printed edition from 1727, published by Le Cène in Amsterdam, which on its turn was based on a London edition of around 1720, published by John Walsh and Joseph Hare. The six sonatas are transcriptions of sonatas that were originally written for violin. This was a very common practice at the time, and Walsh, for instance, often published sonatas which were adapted for another instrument than that for which they were originally intended, and especially for the recorder, which was still very popular in England. Gerdin may also have copied the sonatas for his personal use. The fact that he did so as late as 1758 is remarkable, considering the fast changing fashions in music at the time, and the fact that generally music of more than about twenty years old was considered old-fashioned. Geminiani and Castrucci published the original violin versions in 1716 and 1718 respectively.

Whereas Geminiani is well-known, Castrucci is not. He was one of many Italian performers and/or composers who settled in England, where they took advantage of the popularity of Italian music, largely thanks to the compositions of Corelli. Castrucci, who was from Rome, was probably one of the latter's pupils. He and his younger brother Prospero made a career in England. Charles Burney called Pietro "a man of genius, well acquainted with the bow and finger-board of his instrument". His oeuvre comprises mainly music for violin as well as concerti grossi. The four sonatas included here are of different construction. The Sonata in F comprises just three movements; the traditional second slow movement is omitted. The Sonata in C, on the other hand, has five, and ends with two fast movements. The Sonata in d minor is the most 'conventional', with two adagios and two allegros. The Sonata in G has again five movements; the last two omit tempo indications. The two sonatas by Geminiani are in four movements. As one may expect, all the sonatas are transposed in the manuscript, in order to make them suitable for the recorder. These transpositions are usually up a third, but Castrucci's Sonata in F is transposed up a fifth.

The Sonata in d minor by Castrucci is a special case. The opening adagio has the character of a concerto, and in this performance the difference between the 'soli' and the 'tutti' are marked by the harpsichord, which in the tutti episodes plays full chords. The third movement is an adagio which comprises just two bars and closes on an open half-cadence. The way it is performed gives a clue on the interpreters' approach to this repertoire. "The catharsis of the first movement is followed by a fiery Allegro, whose energy is seized by a harpsichord improvisation and carried over into the third movement". In the latter, "[the] cadential ornamentation (...) is based on a famous example by Roger North; the concluding harpsichord cascades continue the arpeggiated style and by way of passing, quote the London harpsichordist William Babell." Talking about improvisation: several sonatas are preceded by a prelude on the recorder, preparing the key of the ensuing sonata. This was a common practice at the time, but is still seldom applied.

The disc opens with a prelude on the harpsichord, which leads to the first harpsichord item, taken from a second source which the performers have used. It is also from a time that the 'baroque style' was something of the past. Around 1762 Frederick Nussen published his Musica di Camera Op. 3, which includes twelve solos for harpsichord, which Nussen describes as "some old tunes new sett, and some new ones". Some of these tunes are folksongs from the British Isles, some are taken from pieces by Henry Purcell. Unfortunately the liner-notes don't mention the origins of these songs. T'amo tanto is an aria, probably from an opera by Attilio Ariosti. When young at the bar is a song from The Beggar's Opera, and Can love be controul'd is from the pen of Johann Christoph Pepusch. Frederick Nussen has no entry in New Grove, and the booklet does not give any information about him. A search on the internet was useful: he was of German birth and was naturalized in 1755. He wrote a set of six violin sonatas and a set of string trios as his Op. 1 and Op. 2 respectively. He was certainly not a nobody: the gravestone for him in Fulham calls him "one of his Majesty's musicians". The harpsichord pieces are nice additions to this disc with recorder sonatas which may have been preserved in this form in Sweden, but found their origin in England.

I already mentioned some aspects of performance practice. The interpreters have taken some liberties, but - as far as I can tell - all within the boundaries of what is historically plausible. Their creativity and imagination substiantially contribute to a performance that does these pieces full justice. Both Tabea Schwartz and Thomas Leininger are masters of their respective instruments. This is a very compelling disc that certainly will appeal to all lovers of the recorder, and not only to them.

With the second disc we stay in England, and turn to another immigrant from the continent. John Ernest Galliard was born as Johann Ernst Galliard in Celle in Germany; as his last name suggests the family was from France. He was educated at the transverse flute and the oboe by Pierre Maréchal, a member of the Celle court orchestra. He soon joined the orchestra himself and studied composition with Steffani and Farinelli in nearby Hanover. In 1706 the orchestra in Celle was disbanded, and Galliard travelled to London where he entered the service of Prince George of Denmark, Queen Anne's consort. Galliard has become mainly known as a composer of secular music and as an oboist at the Queen's Theatre. In his opera Teseo George Frideric Handel included obbligato oboe parts for him.

Galliard's oeuvre includes several operas, masques and pantomimes as well as songs, cantatas and anthems. Three collections of instrumental music are known: six sonatas for recorder Op. 1, six sonatas for bassoon or cello, and six sonatas for cello. Fabiano Martignago and Angelica Selmo have recorded the complete Op. 1, comprising six sonatas in four or five movements. Charles Burney was not very complimentary of Galliard's music, which he characterised as 'correct' but not very original. He probably referred mainly to his music for the theatre. However, I would not rank the six sonatas performed here among the indispensable, and they are not of the level of the sonatas by Geminiani and Castrucci. That does not imply that they should not be recorded. I have enjoyed the performances by Martignago and Selmo, who make the best of them. If you have a special liking of the recorder, this is certainly a disc you should add to your collection. Angelica Selmo includes two harpsichord works by Purcell, and that is nice, considering that this part of his oeuvre is relatively unknown. She plays them very well. The short playing time is disappointing; why did the performers not add some pieces by contemporaries?

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Thomas Leininger
Fabiano Martignago
Tabea Schwartz
Angelica Selmo

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