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CD reviews

Italian sonatas for recorder & flute

[I] "Italian Sonatas 1730 - Remembering Naples & Venice"
Sabrina Frey, recorder; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord
rec: June 2021, Zurich, Kirche Neumünster
TYXart - TXA21166 (© 2022) (59'05")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giacomo (Lodovico?) FERRONATI (?-1767): Sinfonia in g minor; Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737): Sonata VII in C; Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750): Sonata I in C; Sonata III in e minor; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Sinfonia in G; Ignazio SIEBER (c1680-c1757): Sonata X in g minor; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata in G (RV 806)

[II] "The Parensi Manuscript"
Tabea Schwartz, recorder; Daniel Rosin, cello; Thomas Leininger, harpsichord
rec: Oct 8 - 10, 2019, Sissach, Reformierte Kirche
Pan Classics - PC10421 (© 2020) (63'52")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Sinfonia in G; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata in F (Anh 34) (attr); Domenico Maria DREJER (DREYER) (fl 1731): Sonata in a minor; Pietro PELLEGRINI (?c1715-1780): Concerto in C; Filippo ROSA (fl 1710s?): Sinfonia in F; Tabea SCHWARTZ (ed): Pasticcio in C (anon: Adagio; Antonio VIVALDI: Allegro; Paolo Benedetto BELLINZANI: Cembalo solo per respirar del Flauto; anon: Adagio; Giovanni Antonio CANUTI: Allegro); Giovanni Battista SOMIS (1686-1763): Sinfonia in F

[III] Robert VALENTINE (Roberto VALENTINI): "Un inglese a Roma"
Tommaso Rossi, recordera, transverse fluteb
Ensemble Barocco di Napoli
rec: Nov 2019, Naples, Palazzo del Pò
Stradivarius - Str37154 (© 2022) (64'40")
Liner-notes: E/IT
Cover & track-list
Scores Valentini, op. 12

Sonata in g minor, op. 3,11a; Sonata in F, op. 3,12a; Sonata in A, op. 12,1b; Sonata in d minor, op. 12,2b; Sonata in G, op. 12,3b; Sonata in g minor, op. 12,4b; Sonata in e minor, op. 12,5b; Sonata in D, op. 12,6b

Marco Vitali, cello; Raffaele Di Donna, bass recorder; Giovanni Battista Graziadio, bassoon; Ugo Di Giovanni, archlute; Patrizia Varone, harpsichord

Discs with recorder sonatas often include the same pieces. That is not surprising, considering that the baroque repertoire for the recorder is not that large. Recorder players often turn to sonatas written for other instruments, which they adapt for their own instrument. That is nothing new: that procedure was quite common in the 18th century. The three discs to be reviewed here include several examples. All three recordings focus on sonatas by Italian composers, or at least composers who worked in Italy. There are some differences between them. Sabrina Frey mainly plays sonatas that were intended for the recorder, whereas Tabea Schwarz's programme mostly consists of sonatas that were originally conceived for the violin. The last disc documents the gradual decline of the recorder in favour of the transverse flute during the second quarter of the 18th century.

Sabrina Frey opens her programme with the Sonata in g minor by Ignazio Sieber, a composer about whom little is known; he has no entry in New Grove. His name suggests that he was of German origin. It is no surprise that he moved to Italy; at the start of the 18th century there were not that many professional wind players in Italy, and some of the best-known virtuosos on such instruments came from other parts of Europe. An example is the father of the Sammartini brothers, a French oboe virtuoso with the name of Saint Martin. Sieber worked in Rome and in Venice; in the latter city he probably worked as a teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà. He has left six sonatas for alto recorder and basso continuo, which were published, probably in 1722, together with six sonatas by John Ernest (Johann Ernst) Galliard. Frey turned to a copy in manuscript from a library in Copenhagen; the number X may refer to its place in a collection in that library. The sonata is in four movements in the then common order; the last movement is a giga, which attests to the mixture of elements of the sonata da chiesa and the sonata da camera.

Two sonatas in the programme are by Giuseppe Sammartini, one of the brothers mentioned above. Vanni Moretto, in his liner-notes, mentions that the style of the Sonata I in C raises questions with regard to the attribution. In its second movement he sees features of the Milanese style, but "[the] style of Giuseppe Sammartini, who left Milan at a young age to find his fortune as an oboe virtuoso in London, had in fact evolved decidedly towards an English taste, abandoning many of the Lombard stylistic features that appear to be very crucial in this sonata." Could this piece in fact be from the pen of his brother Giovanni Battista? Notable is that it is in three movements: an andante is followed by two allegros. The opening movement includes many wide leaps. The Sonata III in e minor is also in three movements, in the more traditional order: fast, slow/moderate, fast. Both sonatas end with a minuet, which indicates that they are written in the galant idiom.

There are also question marks with regard to Giacomo Ferronati: no composer with that Christian name is known. Could the Sinfonia in g minor be a work by the violinist Lodovico Ferronati? That may be confirmed by the fact that the first two movements are adaptations of movements from the latter's violin sonata Op. 1 No. 8 from 1710. The additional movements may be from another composer's pen. The title of sinfonia does not have any special meaning: the terms 'sinfonia', 'sonata' and 'concerto' were used indiscriminately, and do not refer to different genres. The first allegro is notable for its sequence of runs.

Alessandro Scarlatti is better-known for his vocal works than his instrumental music, which seems to have taken a minor place in his oeuvre. However, he substantially contributed to the repertoire for the recorder with his sonatas for recorder and strings which are part of a collection from Naples (the Manoscritto di Napoli 1725). The Sinfonia in G included here, dating from 1699, makes its first appearance on disc. It is remarkable in that it has the traces of a suite: it comprises seven movements, of which only three have a title: andante and allegro respectively. However, the opening andante is an allemanda, the second movement a passepied, the second allegro a minuet. The three last movements are a sarabanda, another passepied and a giga respectively.

Antonio Vivaldi composed music for almost any instrument in vogue in his time. However, the recorder does not play a prominent role in his oeuvre. The Sonata in G (RV 806) may have been originally conceived for the recorder; there is another version for violin (RV 810), and Moretto suggests that this may be an adaptation of the recorder version rather than the other way around (which was much more common). The first allegro includes sequences of runs, like the first allegro in Ferronati's sonata.

The programme ends with what is probably the best-known item: the Sonata VII in C by Francesco Mancini. It is part of a set of twelve, which was published in London in 1727, and has been recorded several times complete. Mancini also wrote chamber concertos for recorder and strings, included in the Neapolitan collection of 1725 mentioned above. He was known for his command of counterpoint, in a time that melody was increasingly gaining importance at the cost of counterpoint. It comes to the fore here in particular in the first allegro, which is a fugue.

Sabrina Frey has put together a very interesting programme of sonatas of different character, some of which are clearly intended for amateurs, whereas others may have been written for the composer's own use, and are technically more demanding. She plays three different recorders: soprano, alto and voice flute. She is a true virtuoso, who plays with zest and fantasy; the latter comes to the fore especially in the ornamentation. Her partner at the harpsichord, Philippe Grisvard, is responsible for imaginative realizations of the basso continuo. Some tempi are very fast, but entirely convincing, given the nature of the music.

The sonata by Ferronati is taken from a manuscript collection preserved at the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma. That is also the source on which Tabea Schwarz based her programme. It is known as the 'Parensi manuscript', named after its original owner, Paolo Antonio Parensi, a professional musician and merchant who was active in Lucca in the 1710s. Like Sabrina Frey's disc, this recording includes mainly pieces that are not known, and in this case even the composers are mostly unfamiliar.

That does not go for Arcangelo Corelli, whose Sonata in F opens the programme. However, its authenticity is questionable; therefore it is included in the Corelli catalogue with the addition Anh (Anhang, German for appendix). Most of the pieces from the collection are transcriptions of violin sonatas, and that is also the case with this particular piece. The original sonata is from a collection of twelve violin sonatas published in 1697 by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam and Estienne Tabuteau in Utrecht. Some of the sonatas are attributed to Corelli, but that seems a commercial ploy; the other composers are not identified. The sonata is in D major; in the version for recorder it is transposed to F. It is in six movements, opening with a grave, which is followed by three allegros and two adagios in alternation.

Domenico Maria Drejer (or Dreyer) was a professional oboist, who worked in Russia around 1731. His name suggests that he was of German origin. David Lasocki, in his liner-notes, suggests that he may have been one of German woodwind players who settled in Italy in the early 18th century. He may well have been the brother of the castrato and composer Giovanni Filippo Maria Dreyer, who was in Russia at the same time as Domenico. The latter's extant oeuvre consists of two recorder sonatas, both in the Parensi manuscript, and six oboe sonatas preserved in Paris.

Another unknown quantity is Filippo Rosa; apparently nothing is known about him, and apart from the Sinfonia in F, only two concertos for strings from his pen are known. The sinfonia is in four movements, opening with a movement with the indication grave, which has written-out ornamentation. The following allegro includes suspensions and syncopations.

The Concerto in C is the only known work by Pietro Pellegrini, another composer about whom nothing is known. The years of his birth and death given in the booklet are based on the assumption that he may identical with Pietro Paolo Pellegrini, who was from Lucca and worked in Rome as a bookseller, stationer, and publisher of operas and plays. Again, the term concerto has no special meaning, although Lasocki suggests, on the basis of the first movement, that it may be a reduction of a concerto with strings.

The ensuing Sinfonia in G does not mention the name of the composer, but has been identified as a transcription of the violin sonata by Tomaso Albinoni: the ninth from the set of twelve which was published in 1712 in Amsterdam as his Op. 6, with the title Trattenimenti armonici per camera. This work shows some of the features of the procedure of transposition: notes that are too low, are played one octave higher, whereas passages with double stopping are reduced to a single melodic line. Tabea Schwarz does not follow the transcription included in the manuscript, but plays her own, according to Lasocki "a more consistent arrangement" (without any specification of what that means).

The last sonata is from the pen of Giovanni Battista Somis from Turin, who has become especially known as the violin teacher of several famous composers, such as Jean-Marie Leclair. Little of his oeuvre is available on disc, and the Sonata in F is a short straightforward piece that has all the traces of being intended for amateurs.

The disc ends with a pasticcio of different movements in the manuscript, by various composers. Giovanni Antonio Canuti, who has the last say, was a priest and composer of vocal music. Paolo Benedetti Bellinzani worked in several places as maestro di cappella. He has left a small oeuvre, which includes a set of twelve recorder sonatas published in Venice in 1720. Here the performers have taken a piece for harpsichord solo from the last sonata.

The programme includes some other harpsichord solos, but then as improvised introductions to several sonatas. That was a common practice at the time, which today is seldom applied. It is nice that it is taken into account here. Tabea Schwarz also plays two introductions; her's are based on models by composers of the time the sonatas performed here were written.

It attests to the creative approach of the artists in the realization of this selection of sonatas. The choice of music is praiseworthy anyway; I assume that all the items included here are appearing on disc for the first time. Each of them is well worth being performed, and it is hard to imagine a better interpretation than we get here. Schwarz is an outstanding player, and her ornamentation is imaginative and stylistically convincing. In Daniel Rosin and Thomas Leininger she has excellent partners for the realization of the basso continuo, which is essential to make sure that the character of these pieces comes across.

The last disc is devoted to a remarkable composer. England, and especially London, was the place to be for many performers and composers from across Europe. Quite a number of Italians settled there, and made a career. Robert Valentine did the opposite: he was born in Leicester and moved to Rome in the late 1690s. New Grove mentions that he was educated at the recorder and the oboe, but in Italy, where he was known as Roberto Valentini, he was mainly active as a violinist. In documents he is mentioned as a cellist. This suggests that he was, like many of his contemporaries, a 'multi-instrumentalist' - this was a phenomenon known from the 17th century, which was to change gradually during the 18th century, when more and more players focused on one particular instrument. That he was also playing the oboe professionally is documented by his participation as such in the performance of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione in Rome in 1707.

As a composer he left a considerable oeuvre. The work-list in New Grove mentions thirteen collections with and five without an opus number. In addition a number of sonatas have been preserved in manuscript. That makes it all the more surprising that so little of his oeuvre is available on disc. In 2021 Brilliant Classics released a disc with the twelve recorder sonatas Op. 5.

Earlier, in 2016, Brilliant Classics released a disc with six sonatas Op. 12, which were played on the mandolin. These sonatas were published in 1730 in Rome, and the mandolin was only one of the options. Others were the transverse flute, the violin or the oboe. This was quite common at the time, as this was a way to increase sales. However, it is notable that the mandolin was specifically mentioned; it may well have been one of the first printed collections with such a reference.

The fact that the transverse flute, on which these sonatas are performed by Tommaso Rossi and the Ensemble Barocco di Napoli, is mentioned as one of the options, attests to the growing popularity of this instrument, in particular among amateurs, who earlier favoured the recorder, for which Valentini had written and published several collections of sonatas. They also show a stylistic change. "[The] sonatas opera XII, published in Rome in 1730, represent a leap towards a more modern style, which moves away «from Corellian imitation to arrive at more affectionate, brilliant and light ways of Neapolitan derivation, transposing real 'theatrical' effects from melodramatic writing into the instrumental chamber language»". (The quotation is from the musicologist Marcello Castellani). These pieces are written in the galant idiom. A feature is also the cantabile writing, which was one of the ideals of the time, which longed for a more 'natural' style in music.

The contrast is demonstrated through the addition of the last two sonatas from the set of twelve recorder sonatas which Valentini published in 1710. These are much closer to the model of Corelli's sonatas, which had set the standard for his and the next generation. The collection was dedicated to the English consul in Naples, and that seems fitting, as in England the recorder was extremely popular, and remained longer in vogue than anywhere else.

As I mentioned, it is surprising that so little of Valentini's oeuvre is available on disc. This recording confirms that he wrote music of excellent quality, which fully deserves to be performed and recorded. Tommaso Rossi and his colleagues have done him and the audiences of today a great favour by recording the sonatas Op. 12 and two recorder sonatas in such excellent interpretations. The fast movements receive a lively performance, whereas the slow movements are played with much sensivity. This music may be written in the galant idiom, but it is more than mere entertainment. That comes clearly off in these compelling performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Sabrina Frey
Philippe Grisvard
Thomas Leininger
Daniel Rosin
Tommaso Rossi
Tabea Schwartz
Ensemble Barocco di Napoli

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