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"Concerti Curiosi"

Jamie Savan, cornetta; Simon Desbruslais, trumpetb; Geoffrey Coates, oboec; Persephone Gibbs, violind; Kah-Ming Ng, harpsichorde
Charivari Agréable
Dir: Kah-Ming Ng

rec: August 11 - 13, 2010, Toddington (Gloucestershire, UK), St Andrew's Church
Signum Records - SIGCD249 (© 2011) (62'23")

Pietro BALDASSARI (c1683-after 1768): Sonata for cornett, strings and bca; Johan Daniel BERLIN (1714-1787): Sinfonia No. 2 à 5 for cornett, strings and bca; William CROFT (1678-1727): Sonata for four violins and bc; Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727-1789): Concerto for trumpet, strings and bc No. 3 in Db; Pietro Domenico PARADIES (1707-1791): A favourite concerto for the organ or harpsichord in B flate; Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667-1752): Concerto for four violins, viola and bc in a minord; Johann Anton REICHENAUER (1694-1730): Concerto à 5 for oboe, strings and bc in Fc

Persephone Gibbs, Oliver Sändig, Holly Harman, Benjamin Sansom, Colin Coleman, Richard Wade, violin; Rachel Stott, Joanne Miller, viola; Jennifer Bullock, cello; Ibi Aziz, viola da gamba; Elizabeth Harré, double bass

The ensemble Charivari Agréable was founded in 1993. Since then it has made recordings on a regular basis. A feature of its discography is that its director, Kah-Ming Ng, avoids the well-trodden paths. No Brandenburg Concertos, no Handel concerti grossi or Vivaldi's Four Seasons. He rather turns his attention to psalm settings by English composers of the 17th century, songs and dances from the Hispanic Baroque or "Music for Gainsborough by his contemporaries". All these recordings contain rare music which is seldom heard and often never recorded before. That makes the ensemble take a special place in the early music scene.

It is only fitting that their 20th disc is devoted to "concerti curiosi". All these pieces are rare indeed and for various reasons. Some composers are not very familiar, like Johann Anton Reichenauer (who doesn't even have an entry in New Grove), Johan Daniel Berlin and Pietro Baldassari. Some compositions are curious because of the uncommon scoring. That is certainly the case with the two compositions for four violins, and even more so with the two works in which the cornett plays a solo role.

The cornett was a common instrument in the 16th century, and often participated in performances of sacred music, either supporting or replacing singers. In the early 17th century it was used as a solo instrument in sonatas and canzonas, and was highly celebrated for being a close imitation of the human voice. From the mid-17th century it gradually fell into disuse. In the 18th century hardly any composer wrote music for the cornett. One of the last composers who made use of it was Johann Sebastian Bach in some of his cantatas. It still remained a part of the ensembles of the Stadtpfeifer in Germany and comparable ensembles in Italy. The most famous of the latter was the Concerto Palatino of Bologna which was active until 1779. Even so it is quite remarkable that Pietro Baldassari composed a Sonata for cornett and strings, one of two for this scoring. The form of a piece for solo cornett and strings is quite rare. Over the years I can't remember having ever heard a composition like it. It should be noted that the terms concerto, sinfonia and sonata are to a large extent interchangeable. Therefore Johan Daniel Berlin's Sinfonia No 2 à 5 for cornett and strings is not different in the treatment of the cornett. Berlin was of German birth, but spent most of his life in Norway. He not only was involved in music, but also acted as an inventor. Most of his music is lost, among them a concerto for an instrument called cembalo da gamba verticale. In the writing of his Sinfonia he may have been inspired by the Stadtpfeifer he met in Copenhagen, where he stayed for seven years. Thiese pieces by Baldassari and Berlin are musically quite good and an interesting addition to the repertoire for cornett players. They are given fine performances by Jamie Savan.

Whereas the cornett became obsolete the trumpet was given an increasingly important role. Originally it was used for military and ceremonial purposes. That role was reflected in a way in the 17th century, when trumpets were used in music of a military character or in sacred music written to celebrate military victories. Settings of the Te Deum, but also of the Magnificat, often included parts for one or more trumpets. With the emergence of the concerto in the early 18th century the trumpet was given a solo role by some composers. The fact that the number of concertos is limited is probably due to a lack of skilled players. This can be put down in particular to the fact that the trumpet had no finger holes and was hard to play in tune. Two composers of the German baroque have given the trumpet special attention by writing several solo concertos: Johann Wilhelm Hertel and Johann Melchior Molter. Hertel's trumpet concertos belong to the best-known part of his oeuvre. They were written for the court of Schwerin, where the trumpet virtuoso Johann Georg Hoese was working. Their popularity among modern trumpeters can be easily explained, for instance by the Concerto No 3 in D. The music is attractive, but also technically demanding for the soloist. Simon Desbruslais's performance leaves nothing to be desired: it is musically compelling and technically very impressive.

Compositions for four violins are not as rare as concertos for the cornett. They were mostly written in Italy, and the former German ensemble Musica antiqua Köln once devoted a complete disc to such pieces (Archiv). In this respect the four concertos for four solo violins without accompaniment by Telemann also deserve to be mentioned. In those pieces the various violins get solo passages, whereas the others accompany. William Croft's Sonata for four violins and bc follows the same procedure, although Croft adds a part for the basso continuo. One probably wouldn't expect such a piece from Croft, in particular as it is written in a purely Italian style. The Concerto for four violins in a minor by Johann Christoph Pepusch is different in various respects. The four violins are not treated on equal footing as they are in Croft's sonata. One of the violins gets a solo role whereas the others furnish accompaniment. Pepusch has also added a part for a viola, and that makes this concerto more like a 'conventional' solo concerto in Vivaldian style.

The influence of Vivaldi is traceable in all concertos on this disc. It was in particular his opus 3, L'Estro armonico, which was printed in 1711, which had a lasting influence on composers all over Europe. This opus also included several concertos for four violins, and these could well have inspired the likes of Croft and Pepusch to write for this scoring too. Of all composers on this disc Johann Anton Reichenauer seems to have had the most direct access to Vivaldi's music. He was at the service of the Bohemian count Wenzel von Morzin, who was the dedicatee of Vivaldi's opus 8. Reichenauer's Concerto à 5 in F is scored for oboe, strings and bc. The first movement begins with a passage in which the oboe plays colla parte with the first violin. Here Geoffrey Coates' oboe blends beautifully with the strings. In the adagio he can show his lyrical qualities.

Pietro Domenico Paradies was one of the many composers from the continent who settled in London in the first quarter of the 18th century. He composed several operas which were performed in the Haymarket Theatre in London. But he was mainly admired for his keyboard music. A set of 12 sonatas was printed in London in 1754 and found wide dissemination. They received praise from Leopold Mozart who urged his daughter Nannerl to study them. Two concertos for keyboard and strings are known from his pen. The Concerto in B flat was printed around 1768; the solo part can be played on harpsichord or organ. Although the concerto is in three movements like all pieces on this disc, the first movement consists of two sections, vivace e staccato and allegretto. In the first section we only hear the strings, in the second the keyboard comes in. Kah-Ming Ng gives a lively account of the solo part.

I have greatly enjoyed this disc and this is very much down to the original repertoire and the playing of the soloists. The performances of the tutti by the strings could have been a bit more colourful and dynamically differentiated. The violins are at their best in the two concertos for four violins. The recording is excellent and so are the liner-notes by Kah-Ming Ng. It is a shame that the track-list is somewhat inaccurate: neither keys - I have tried to add them as far as possible - nor the exact scoring are given.

This is a disc for adventurous music lovers who like to extend their horizon and are not satisfied with listening to the same masterpieces over and over again. Charivari Agréable deserve our congratulations with this 20th volume in their impressive discography. May many more follow.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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