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"Baroque Wind"

Die Freitagsakademie

rec: Oct 2019, Zurich, Studio SRF
Winter & Winter - 910 263-2 (© 2020) (61'38")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Sonata for two oboes, bassoon and bc in g minor (FWV N,g1); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Aria for two horns, two oboes and bassoon in F (HWV 410); Aria for two horns, two oboes and bassoon in F (HWV 411); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Overture for two horns, two oboes, bassoon and bc in F 'La Chasse' (TWV 44,10); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata for two oboes, bassoon and bc in C (RV 801); Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745): Sonata No. 2 for two oboes, bassoon and bc in g minor (ZWV 181,2)

Katharina Suske, Stefano Vezzani, oboe; Carles Cristóbal, bassoon; Christian Holenstein, Daniel Lienhard, horn; Ján Krigovský, violone; Jonathan Rubin, archlute, guitar; Marek Cermák, harpsichord, organ

Wind instruments played a major part in renaissance and baroque Europe. Many towns had their own ensembles of wind players, such as the city waits in England and the Stadtpfeifer in Germany. They participated in ceremonies of the town and played in the homes of the social elite. In the 17th century, France was a trendsetter in many ways, and that includes the development and increasing role of wind instruments. The emergence of the oboe in particular was a key moment in music history. Louis XIV employed a group of twelve oboists, called Les Douze Grands Hautbois. As everything French exerted a strong attraction on royalty and aristocracy across Europe, oboes - mostly alongside bassoons - appeared in court chapels outside France.

The orchestral overture - itself a token of the influence of the French taste - was usually scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc. In Telemann's oeuvre one can find many of such overtures, but also in the output of other composers, such as Johann Friedrich Fasch. However, this disc focuses on compositions for wind instruments and basso continuo, without the participation of strings. Such pieces constituted the repertoire of ensembles of oboists, usually referred to as Hautboisten. Not only original pieces were written for such ensembles, they also played music for other ensembles, including strings, which was arranged for wind instruments, in particular bands of oboes and bassoons.

The history of wind ensembles doesn't stop here. Whereas the oboe and the bassoon had their roots in France, the horn was very much a German/Austrian addition to the wind band. Its history goes back to the Middle Ages, but technical changes in the early decades of the 18th century allowed it to play an increasingly important role at the courts of kings and aristocrats. From ancient times, the horn was associated with the hunt, and in the 18th century it was naturally associated with the courts of kings and aristocrats, given that hunting was one of their main preoccupations.

The ideal of German composers from the first half of the 18th century was the 'mixed taste': the combination of French and Italian influences with German tradition. The Overture in C by Telemann, scored for two horns, two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo, is a perfect specimen of this ideal. Its title - translated 'the hunt' - seems to be inspired by the participation of horns, but the piece itself doesn't include any movements which refer to the hunt. The last movement is a character piece, called 'Le Plaisir', which reflects the atmosphere of the countryside.

In comparison, the Sonata in g minor by Johann Friedrich Fasch is very much written in the Italian style. This piece for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo has been preserved in manuscript in Dresden. It seems quite possible that it was written for the court chapel in Dresden, as Fasch, who for many years was Kapellmeister at the court in Zerbst, was a close friend of Johann Georg Pisendel, leader of the Dresden chapel. The sonata is written in four movements, modelled after the Corellian sonata da chiesa. The wind parts are technically demanding, and that goes in particular for the bassoon part. This may reflect the quality of the members of the Dresden chapel.

The same is true for Zelenka's Sonata II in g minor, one of a set of six sonatas which Zelenka, who played the double bass in the Dresden court chapel, composed in 1715/16, during his sojourn in Vienna, where he studied with Johann Joseph Fux. These sonatas are generally considered milestones in the repertoire for oboe and bassoon. These sonatas are also written in the form of sonate da chiesa, but the movements are much longer than was usual at the time, and the themes are also longer and more complicated.

The disc opens with the Sonata in C by Antonio Vivaldi. The RV number suggests that it was a late addition to the catalogue of his works. It has survived as a set of parts in the Fürstenberg collection at Schloss Herdringen (Westphalia, Germany) and is assumed to have been written between 1715 and 1720. It is a curious piece as it seems the only work from Vivaldi's pen for three wind instruments and basso continuo. In his oeuvre we find just one trio sonata for two oboes and basso continuo. The texture of this quartet reminds us of Vivaldi's concertos for three instruments and basso continuo, but none of these is scored for wind instruments, let alone for this particular combination.

Talking about curious pieces, that also goes for the two Arias by Handel. They probably date from the mid-1720s, and are scored for two horns, two oboes and a bass instrument. The scoring of the bass instrument is not specified, but considering the common combination of oboes and bassoon at the time, the latter seems a logical choice. These pieces may have been intended for performance by the wind players from Handel's opera orchestra. The Aria HWV 410 is modelled after the aria 'Benché tuoni e l'etra avvampi' from Handel's opera Teseo.

In modern performance practice, music for wind instruments is either music for cornetts and sackbuts in repertoire of the renaissance and the early 17th century, or Harmoniemusik, which was frequently written in the classical period. It seems that wind music from the late 17th and early 18th centuries is largely neglected. From that perspective this disc is quite interesting and a meaningful addition to the discography. With the exception of Zelenka's sonata, the pieces included here are hardly known. The German ensemble Die Freitagsmusik has produced several recordings in the past, some of which I have heard. I was not always entirely convinced by their performances. and in this case my main reservation concerns the Zelenka sonata, which could have been a bit more energetic. Especially the second movement is a little too restrained. There are complete recordings of the six sonatas which are more satsfying. That said, overall I recommend this disc, as it includes some delightful music, and the pieces by Vivaldi, Fasch and Telemann receive fine performances.

The music lover who is interested in this disc, should know that it comes without liner-notes of any substance. The producers confined themselves to a very short description on the rear. They should have done better.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Die Freitagsakademie

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