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Antonio VIVALDI: "Recorder Concertos" & George Frideric HANDEL: "Recorder Sonatas"

Piers Adams, recorder
Musica da Cameraa; David Watkin, cellob; Howard Beach, harpsichordb

rec: Nov 1988, Abingdon, Radley Collegea; Nov 1989, Cheam, St Dunstan's Churchb
Red Priest Recordings - RP008 (2 CDs) (R) ( 2012) (56'40" / 59'13")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

George Frideric HANDELb (1685-1759): Sonata for recorder and bc in d minor (HWV 367a); Sonata for recorder and bc in g minor, op. 1,2 (HWV 360); Sonata for recorder and bc in C, op. 1,7 (HWV 365); Sonata for recorder and bc in F, op. 1,11 (HWV 369); Sonata for transverse flute (recorder) and bc in G, op. 1,5 (HWV 363b); Sonata for transverse flute (recorder) and bc in D (HWV 378); Sonata for violin (recorder) and bc in d minor, op. 1,1 (HWV 359a); Variations on Harmonious Blacksmith for harpsichord (HWV 148)
Antonio VIVALDIa (1678-1741): Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in C (RV 443); Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in c minor (RV 441); Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in a minor (RV 445); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in F, op. 10,1 'La Tempesta di Mare' (RV 433); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in g minor, op. 10,2 'La Notte' (RV 439); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D, op. 10,3 'Il Gardellino' (RV 428)

[Musica da Cameraa] Roy Goodman, Miles Golding, violin; Jane Compton, viola; Jane Coe, cello; Mandy MacNamara, double bass; Robert King, harpsichord, organ

This set of two discs brings us back to the late 1980s when the use of period instruments wasn't as common as it is today. Handel's music was frequently played, and his sonatas were part of the standard repertoire of chamber ensembles. Vivaldi's popularity started to grow, but the largest part of his oeuvre was still waiting to be rediscovered. The recorder was one of the most popular instruments from the early days of historical performance practice. According to the booklet Piers Adams is "widely regarded as one of the greatest recorder players of our time". I have to take the author's word for it, but these accolades seem a bit exaggerated as there are quite a number of 'great recorder players' nowadays. It is quite possible that these recordings of concertos by Vivaldi and sonatas by Handel were remarkable achievements at the time. But I can't see much reason why they would attract special attention in our time, especially as there are quite a number of recordings of this repertoire on the market.

Only three of the six concertos by Vivaldi were originally scored for recorder. The Concertos RV 443 and RV 445 are scored for flautino and played here on the sopranino recorder. The Concerto RV 441 is performed on the treble recorder. The remaining three concertos are from a set of six which were printed in 1729 in Amsterdam as op. 10. They were scored for transverse flute, strings and bc which reflects the growing popularity of the flute at the cost of the recorder. Most of the concertos from op. 10 are reworkings of concerti da camera which Vivaldi had written for four instruments and bc. Although Vivaldi indicated the scoring of some parts, in other cases he left the choice of instrument to the performer. The original version of the Concerto in D, op. 10,3 was scored for four instruments: recorder/flute/violin, oboe/violin, violin and cello/bassoon. All sorts of combinations were possible. Even when a specific instrument was indicated, the choice of another instrument seems perfectly legitimate. Considering the flexibility in regard to the scoring there can be no objection against playing the three flute concertos on the recorder. As they are not transposed to a different key one can hardly consider these performances as 'arrangements'.

Piers Adams plays the solo parts generally quite well, adding probably more ornamentation than was common at the time. He does particularly well in his creative interpretation of the Concerto in D, op. 10,3, with the nickname Il Gardellino. On the other hand there is too little differentiation between the notes and not enough dynamic shading. The most disappointing part of this recording is the performance of the string parts. These are rather pale in comparison with later recordings, in particular by Italian ensembles.

The second disc is devoted to sonatas by Handel which have always been quite popular, not least because a general lack of sonatas for recorder. In the 1970s and 1980s many of Handel's sonatas were indiscriminately played on the recorder, although some of them were not scored for it. The corpus of Handel's chamber music suffers from the editions which were printed by unscrupulous publishers. As the recorder was still very common in England in Handel's days and his music was in much demand, they adapted sonatas for the recorder for commercial reasons. Four of the sonatas in the programme were originally scored for recorder: HWV 360, 365, 367a and 369. The sonatas HWV 363b and 378 were intended for the transverse flute and the sonata HWV 359a for the violin. Like Vivaldi's flute concertos they are played in the original keys, and as long as they sound well they can be perfectly played on the recorder. Piers Adams uses three different instruments: a descant recorder, a treble recorder and a voice flute. He plays well, again with quite a lot of ornamentation. In this department he sometimes goes a little overboard, for instance in the a tempo di gavotta from the Sonata in C (HWV 365). The closing cadenza of the Sonata in d minor (HWV 367a) is rather tasteless. The variations on Harmonious Blacksmith were written for harpsichord and belong to Handel's most popular works. Playing the upper part at the recorder, with the other parts performed on cello and harpsichord, is an interesting option, which can be historically justified. Some variations are played at very high speed, and these don't work that well.

As with the Vivaldi recordings there is little which catches the attention of the present-day listener. There are many recordings of Handel's sonatas in the market which are just as good or better. It is probably the budget price of this set which could entice lovers of the recorder to purchase it.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

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Piers Adams

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