London 1740 HMM902613

London circa 1740 – Handel’s Musicians
La Rêveuse/Florence Bolton, Benjamin Perrot
rec. 2021, Église protestante, Paris
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from
Harmonia Mundi HMM902613 [69]

In the late 17th century London became one of the musical centres of Europe. Around 1700 English music lovers had come under the spell of Italian music, thanks to the publication of collections of sonatas and concerti grossi from the pen of Arcangelo Corelli. Because of this Italian performers and composers – and those from other parts of Europe who had adopted the Italian style – found a fertile ground for their activities. London saw a constant influx from musicians from across Europe. In 2020 Harmonia mundi released a disc under the title ‘London circa 1720 – Corelli’s Legacy’. The ensemble La Rêveuse performed music by Corelli in an arrangement of the German immigrant Johann Christian Schickhardt, and by the latter himself, Francesco Geminiani, his countryman Nicola Francesco Haym, the English William Babell (whose father was a French immigrant) and, of course, the great George Frideric Handel, the most famous immigrant of them all. The present disc is a sequel, and here we have moved about twenty years forward in time.

Handel is still a force to be reckoned with, and obviously he is represented in the programme. However, the heydays of the Italian style are gone. Italian opera has lost its appeal, partly under the influence of the Beggar’s Opera which ridiculed opera and the social circles that had embraced it. Handel abolished opera and turned his attention to oratorios on an English text.

Another development was the emergence of public concerts: “[Concerts] by amateur music societies, series of public subscription concerts, opera seasons at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields or Covent Garden theatres, open-air summer seasons in the pleasure gardens, and even a Masonic musical season organised by the ‘Philo-Musicae et Architecturae Societas Apollini’, one of the oldest Lodges, founded by Geminiani in 1724.” (booklet) During summertime the elite was on the countryside, and concert life came to a halt. Jonathan Tylers, the owner of the Spring Gardens at Vauxhall, took advance of the presence of professional musicians who did not have much to do: he organized public concerts of high calibre, but open to everyone for a modest price of admission. The concerts at Vauxhall Gardens have become very well-known, as some of the best composers of the time wrote music for it, such as Handel. However, most pieces performed there were taken from existing sources. It is here that the tradition came into existence of crowds’s singing ‘Rule, Britannia!’, taken from Thomas Augustine Arne’s opera Alfred.

The programme comprises music by composers most of whom were associated with Handel in that they played in his orchestra. It opens with a concerto for transverse flute by Charles Weideman, who was from Germany (born as Carl Friedrich Weidemann) and joined Handel’s orchestra in 1725. The flute was a relatively new instrument, which had to compete with the recorder, which was still very popular among amateurs. The flute was mostly played by performers who were educated on the oboe. Weideman may have been one of them (as New Grove states in the entry on the flute; the article about himself suggests that he was educated on the flute). Giuseppe Sammartini certainly was an oboist by profession, and according to contemporaries probably the greatest of them all. Here we hear his best-known concerto, in which the solo part is originally written for the recorder.

Pietro Castrucci was from Rome, and there he met Handel, when the latter was staying there. Castrucci followed Handel to London in 1715 and became concertmaster of the latter’s orchestra. According to Charles Burney he invented the violetta marina, a kind of viola d’amore which Handel used in two of his operas. The largest part of his modest output comprises violin sonatas, but here we get a curious piece for viola da gamba, an instrument that in his time was in the process of being overshadowed by the Italian cello. However, among the higher echelons of society the gamba was still played; until the end of his life Carl Friedrich Abel taught the viol to some of them.

One of the features of English concert life in the mid-18th century was the growing popularity of traditional music, be it from Scotland or from Ireland. Several composers included traditional tunes into their compositions or arranged such tunes for ‘art’ instruments, such as the flute or the violin. In this programme that aspect of concert life is represented by James Oswald, who was from Scotland and was educated on the cello. He settled in London and became acquainted with the English, Italian and French styles. He a had a strong influence on later generations of composers. Here we hear a selection of his versions of traditional tunes, played on a variety of instruments.

The entire ensemble closes the programme with a performance of a piece that Handel wrote specifically for the Vauxhall Gardens.

This disc is a nice mixture of well-known pieces and unknown items. Among the former are the trio sonata by Handel and Sammartini’s recorder concerto. Weideman may be new to the catalogue, and I am pretty sure that Castrucci’s Sonata for viola da gamba has never been recorded before. That is certainly a valuable addition to the viol repertoire. La Rêveuse has produced a most interesting and musically compelling survey of what was written and performed in London around 1740. The ensemble includes some young performers but also an old hand as the French recorder player Sébastien Marq, who delivers an excellent performance of Sammartini’s concerto. He also shines in a number of pieces by Oswald. Oliver Riehl is the outstanding soloist in Weideman’s concerto, and Florence Bolton excells in Castrucci.

This is a splendid disc, which will give you more than an hour of musical entertainment at the highest level.

Johan van Veen

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Presto Music

Charles Weideman (c1705-1782)
Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in E minor, op. 2,6
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Trio sonata for two violins and bc in G minor, op. 2,5 (HWV 390)
Giuseppe Sammartini (1695-1750)
Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F (GSM 1711)
Pietro Castrucci (1679-1752)
Sonata for viola da gamba in G minor
James Oswald (1710-1759)
Hugar Mu Fean
Sleepy Maggy
A Sonata of Scots Tunes
The Cameronian’s Rant
Up in the Morning Early
George Frideric Handel
Hornpipe Compos’d for the Concert at Vauxhall in D (HWV 356)