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Ensemble La Monica
Michael de LA BARRE
IXe Suite Sonate L’Inconnue, for flute and basso continuo (1710) [8:12]
John Ernest GALLIARD (c.1687-1749)
Sonata I in A Minor, for bassoon and basso continuo (1733) [8:13]
Robert de VISÉE (c.1656-c.1732)
Prélude, for theorbo (1699) [1:14]
Entrée d’Apollon, for theorbo (1699) [3:33]
Nicola MATTEIS, the elder (d.?1707)
Aria Amorosa: version for flute – originally violin – and theorbo (1685) [3:17]
Luigi MERCI (c.1695-1751)
Sonata IV in G Minor, for bassoon and basso continuo (1735) [9:30]
Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE (1674-1751)
Suite in E Minor, for flute and basso continuo (1708) [22:15]
Gilles DURANT de LA BERGERIE (1550-1605)
Ma belle si ton ame (1603), version for flute and theorbo [1:08]
Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER (1607-1683)
Sonata sopra ‘La Monica’, for bassoon and basso continuo (1651) [5:24]
Ensemble la Monica: Christina Sönstevold (transverse flute); Knut Sönstevold (baroque bassoon); Suzanne Persson (theorbo, baroque guitar)
rec. 20-23 June, 2005 and 13 May, 2006, Gäsinge Church, Gnesta, Sweden
SFZ RECORDS SFZ1012 [62:56]

Ensemble La Monica take their name from one of those tunes, of unknown origin, which found its way around Europe and which was ‘borrowed’ by composer after composer, between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. In what appears to be its earliest form it serves as the melody for an Italian song about a young girl who is compelled to become a nun. The tune appears in some German sources as a ‘Deutscher Tanz’ and in non-German music it is sometimes referred to simply as ‘alemand’. There are lute versions by, amongst others, Massimiliano Gorzani (in the 1570s) and Giovanni Antonio Terzi (1593). Frescobaldi wrote a set of keyboard variations (Partite sopre la Monicha, 1615/16) and a Missa sopra l’Aria della monaca has often been attributed to him. The tune appears in compositions by Bernardo Storace, Biagio Marini and many others. There were numerous versions in both France and Northern Europe. On this, which appears to be their first CD, the Ensemble la Monica play two versions of their ‘name’ tune. One is a bassoon sonata by Philipp Friedrich Böddekker; the other a song by Gilles Durant de la Bergerie, played here by flute and theorbo.
Böddekker was himself a bassoonist, though I believe that this is his only sonata for the instrument. Like some of the other pieces on this disc it would benefit from a fuller continuo than Suzanne Persson’s theorbo alone can provide. Its opening section meanders rather lugubriously. Gilles Durant de la Bergerie’s chanson fares a little better in its version for flute, but the chosen tempo seems unduly slow.
Elsewhere – away from ‘la monica’ – the CD includes an interesting suite by Michael de La Barre, flute de la chambre to Louis XIV. The solo flute here gets continuo support from theorbo and bassoon, but the performance is a little short on crispness and energy. The French theme is maintained in two solo pieces by Robert de Visée, another of the musicians of Louis XIV’s musique de chambre – and guitar tutor to the young Louis XV. Both are attractively played by Suzanne Persson, with real expressivity and a good command of idiom. A final French contribution to the programme is made by one of Hotteterre’s suites for flute, in E minor. This is a substantial piece – some twenty-two minutes in length and made up of eleven movements. Christina Sönstevold has a few moments of intonational uncertainty, but gives a sympathetic account of the piece and the bassoon plays so prominent a continuo role that at times it seems to engage the flute in a dialogue which goes beyond the normal understanding of continuo playing. The ‘Branle de village “L’Auteüill”’ is an attractive oddity.
Three items on the programme take us to London or, at any rate, are the work of musicians who established their reputations in London. John Ernest Galliard, German in origin, came to London in 1706 to take up a court appointment. Both an oboist and an organist, in 1710 he became organist at Somerset House. Simultaneously he worked as oboist at the Queen’s Theatre (playing in performances of Handel operas conducted by the composer). He wrote for the theatre and for the church, but his 1733 set of six sonatas for bassoon (or cello) and continuo are amongst his most enduring works. The brief ‘Hornpipe a l’Inglese’ has considerable charm and is well articulated by Knut Sönstevold. But, at the cost of repeating myself, I have to say that here too the continuo sounds – unavoidably – rather on the thin side and, as a consequence, the harmonic progressions are not delineated as forcefully as the music really needs.
Born in Naples, Nicola Matteis came to London in the early 1670s; a virtuoso violinist and not short of self-confidence – one English contemporary described him as “inexpugnably proud” – his compositions and his playing attracted a great deal of admiration. The ‘Aria amorosa’ from his 1685 Ayres for the Violin works well in this version for flute and theorbo, is well played, and is one of the most fully satisfying pieces on the disc.
Luigi Merci worked in London, best known as a player of the recorder, but his Sei sonate per fagotto, Op. III, of 1735, contain some attractive music. The fourth sonata elicits some of Knut Sönstevold’s most persuasive playing on this present disc. It has to be said, however, that there are better performances to be heard from Paolo Tognon on Tactus TC 691301 – not least because of the more supportive continuo playing.
Ensemble la Monica’s first CD is a rather low-key affair. Their unusual combination of instruments makes for some intimate and attractively unusual effects, but its limitations are evident in some of this music.
Glyn Pursglove





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