musica Dei donum
Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667 - 1752): "Concertos and Overtures for London"
Mark Baigent, oboea;
Crispian Steele-Perkins, trumpetb;
Sally Holman, bassoonc;
Tassilo Ehrhardt, violind;
Kinga Gáborjáni, celloe
The Harmonious Society of Tickle-fiddle Gentlemen
Dir: Robert Rawson
rec: July 2010, London, Church of All Saints, Tooting
Ramée - RAM 1109 (© 2012) (64'24")
Cover & track-list
Concerto à 5 for oboe, strings and bc in g minora;
Concerto à 6 for cello, bassoon, strings and bc in Fce;
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in Ad;
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in a minord;
Concerto grosso à 6 for trumpet, strings and bc in Db;
Concerto grosso for violin, strings and bc in B flat;
Overture to The Beggar's Opera in B flat;
Overture to Venus and Adonis in F
The name of Johann Christoph Pepusch appears regularly on discs devoted to the music scene in England, and in particular in London, in the first decades of the 18th century. He played a quite important role in English musical life of the time. To my knowledge this is the very first disc entirely devoted to his oeuvre.
Pepusch was born in Berlin and was employed at the Prussian court in Dresden from age 14. Little is known for sure about his musical education, but as later in England he directed performances from the harpsichord it is likely that he was educated as a keyboard player, probably by an organist from Saxony. There are conflicting reports about the time he arrived in England. According to Charles Burney it was "soon after the  revolution", others mention 1697. His activities after the turn of the century are well documented.
It is certain that he frequented the public concerts which were organised by the coal merchant Thomas Britton. Many compositions by English composers, but also by Italians and Germans, were performed during these concerts. Not only Pepusch took part in the performances, but also the likes of Handel, Banister and Dubourg. Britton's neighbour was the satirical writer Ned Ward who described the musicians of these concerts as "the harmonious society of tickle-fiddle gentlemen". This has inspired Robert Rawson to choose the name of this ensemble. The programme includes the only composition from Pepusch's pen which can be associated with these performances with certainty, the Concerto grosso in B flat. It is probably the earliest concerto in England to survive complete. It is largely a reworking of an earlier sonata for violin and bc; only the first of the five movements is original.
In 1716 Pepusch came into contact with the Duke of Chandos at Cannons where Handel was also present in 1718, composing his Chandos Anthems. Pepusch was appointed director of music in 1719 until some time in the mid-1720s. Two compositions can probably be connected to his time at Cannons. The inventory of the Duke's collection of music of 1720 includes an oboe concerto which could be the Concerto à 5 in g minor, an example of a pre-Vivaldian concerto in four movements, following the model of the sonata da chiesa. The inventory also includes seven trumpet concertos, apparently inspired by the arrival of the trumpeter A.G. Lemon. Only one trumpet concerto by Pepusch has survived in Rostock in Germany, the Concerto grosso à 6 in D. It is in five movements, and it is not so much a solo concerto but rather - as the title suggests - a piece in which the trumpet part is fully integrated in the ensemble.
The German origins of Pepusch come to the fore in the two violin concertos. They are in three movements, and follow the Vivaldian pattern. Their German character is reflected by the frequent use of multistopping which is a feature of the German violin school. Although Pepusch was active in England from a relatively young age he was well-known and highly respected in his native country. In a poem from 1725 he is mentioned in one breath with the likes of Kuhnau, Keiser and Handel. Several of his compositions are listed in the inventory of the court in Zerbst where Johann Friedrich Fasch was Kapellmeister until 1758. Fruits from his pen have also been found in the archive of the court of Dresden whose orchestra in the first half of the 18th century was generally considered the best in Germany. From this archive comes the Concerto à 6 in F, a piece largely in galant idiom with some elements of counterpoint.
Lastly, Pepusch was active in the world of the music theatre. His most famous contribution was the overture to The Beggar's opera; for the arias he composed the basso continuo part. The programme on this disc opens with the overture, and closes with the overture of another theatrical piece, Venus and Adonis. It dates from 1715 and, according to Robert Rawson, it is "the earliest English 'opera' with a (nearly) complete set of original parts". The overture is scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc. With this overture the circle is closed as it were. It had been more logical to swap the two overtures, as the music for the Beggar's opera was virtually the last Pepusch wrote for the theatre. In the following years he gradually withdrew from public performances and concentrated on studying music of the past.
This is a most enjoyable disc. The programme documents the various stages and aspects of Pepusch's musical activities. This way we get a fairly good portrait of the composer and his style. Pepusch's music is well worth exploring, and there is no dull moment here. The orchestra explores the qualities of his music to the full, with lively playing and expressive performances of the slow movements. The ensemble is excellent, and the solo parts are given fine accounts. Without undervaluing the efforts of the other soloists I would like to single out Thilo Erhardt for his wonderful playing of the violin parts. This orchestra's purpose is the exploration of English music life in the early 18th century. This is their first disc, and a very fine one it is. May many more follow.
Johan van Veen (© 2012)
The Harmonious Society of Tickle-fiddle Gentlemen