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Joseph GIBBS (1699-1788)
The Eight Violin Sonatas (publ. 1748)
Sonata No.1 in D minor
Sonata No.2 in A major
Sonata No.3 in G major
Sonata No.4 in flat major
Sonata No.5 in E major
Sonata No.6 in F major
Sonata No.7 in A minor
Sonata No.8 in E flat major
Sergei Bezkorvany (violin)
Julian Dawson (harpsichord)
rec. 1988, location unspecified
CLAUDIO RECORDS CR 3606/07-2 [46:19 + 47:17]


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.

Biographical details 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 with understanding.

Jonathan Woolf


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