This is the first
and so far only integral set of Joseph Gibbs’s eight violin
sonatas. They were published in 1748 in which year Gibbs, born
in Essex, moved to the position of organist in Ipswich. The
set was the first of his small yet select body of published
work – a set of six quartets appeared under his name in later
years, though nothing else as far as is known.
are sparse. He was born in Dedham in 1699 and the move to the
Church of St. Mary-le-Tower in Ipswich proved to be a definitive
one; he remained in post for forty years, dying at the age of
eighty-nine. He was given a Civic funeral and a militia band
saw him to his rest, as befits the man who was “eminently distinguished
in his profession,” as his dedication read. The booklet portrait
by the way is Gibbs and was painted by Gainsborough, a neighbour
and friend, and points to the position of local eminence held
by the composer-organist.
The sonatas are spirited and often surprisingly
technically demanding. The models are Italian in the main –
Corelli and Geminiani though Handel is also very much an influence.
In fact in the Gainsborough portrait Gibbs is shown holding
copies of works by both Italian composers. The sonatas generally
conform to expected patterns – there’s one five and one three-movement
sonata but the rest are cast in the conventional four movements.
The First Sonata
is an especially beautiful one. Its Largo is expressive to the
point of desolation but even better is the Aria finale. This
is a series of variations of real interest, excitement and beauty.
There’s also plenty of thematic variety and some strong demands
on the player as well. Gibbs must have had an authoritative
and fine player to hand if this is anything to go by. But all
the sonatas have pleasures to render up to the inquisitive listener.
There’s the intriguing counterpoint of the Second Sonata and
the attractively Corellian Allegro of the Third with its sliver
of a Grave movement and sedate minuet to end. Gibbs was clearly
keen on the Scotch snap. He uses the feature a number of times,
not least in the opening Largo of the Fourth in B flat major.
The Fifth has some
traps for the unwary. The bowing demands of the opening are
balanced by the double stops and fugal complications of the
ensuing Vivace. The sonata also houses the only Saraband Gibbs
wrote – note how harpsichordist Julian Dawson varies his articulation
to the necessary limpid delicacy. The second movement Allegro
from the five-movement Sixth is a fine conflation of English
sturdiness and Handelian extroversion, though as it develops
some Vivaldian influence can be felt as well, especially in
the way Gibbs brings out lower voicings. And Gibbs continues
to favour fruitful contrasts. The Seventh has three movements
but Gibbs is clear to play off the long and delicate Affetuoso
with the boisterous and energetic Scotch-snapped Allegro. He
returns to this vein with the last, which has a kind of Scotch
Corno to conclude in dynamic style.
The only other recording
known to me – but not heard by me – is that of the D minor which
is on a Hyperion disc devoted to English violin sonatas of the
period and played by the indefatigable Elizabeth Wallfisch and
the Locatelli Trio - The English Orpheus series. The Claudio acoustic
is rather chilly and the sound is therefore very forward. Sometimes
Bezkorvany’s intonation is not beyond reproach and one or two
of the fugal passages sound shrilly taxing but these are otherwise
enjoyable and small-scaled performances that present Gibbs’s muse