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Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord
Johann Adolphe SCHEIBE (1708-1776) Sonatas for flute and harpsichord obbligato: No. 1 in D major; No. 2 in B minor; No. 3 in A major;
Morten RAEHS (1702-1766) Sonata for flute and basso continuo: No. 2 in D major; Sonata No. 3 in C minor
Maria Bania, (flute)
Lars Ulrik Mortenson, (harpsichord)
Recorded at Diamanten, The Royal Library, January 2002
DA CAPO 8.224213 [61.49]

 

The first half of the 18th Century was undoubtedly the golden age of the flute, or be more precise the wooden ‘flauto traverso’, the kind of instrument that Maria Bania is seen holding at the back of the liner notes. There are many famous characters associated with it of which Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) and his patron King Frederick the Great of Prussia are particularly famous due mostly to a painting made of the King with Quantz (probably) accompanying. C.P.E. Bach wrote for the instrument whilst in Berlin. Handel wrote several sets of sonatas and yards and yards of baroque flute music can be heard streaming from conservatoire and senior school practice rooms often composed by little known masters.

I suspect however that not even specialists and flute teachers know much if anything about Danish high baroque flute music. Therefore Johann Adolphe Scheibe and Morten Raehs will probably be entirely new names to you as they were to me. Their biographies are given in the notes.

The music comes from a collection of mainly flute pieces known as the Giedde collection. The same collection also houses works by Telemann, Mattheson and lesser masters, many of them Danish.

Scheibe was born in Germany and like so many, before and since, first studied law. By the age of 22 he was making his living as a professional musician in Leipzig where he met Bach and Telemann. He criticised Bach for being too contrapuntal in his periodical ‘Der critische Musikus’. By 1740 he was in Copenhagen and was made ‘Royal Conductor’ at the Pietist court and consequently became a leading figure in the capital and well known to King Christian VI. There were several fine orchestras in Copenhagen. Often these were staffed by leading Italian musicians of the day.

Scheibe’s sonatas are in four movements with little variety of order. The main pattern is slow, fast, slow, fast. Each sonata has much that would please the virtuosi of the day especially in the finales, generally marked Presto. The slow movements are most reliant on an ‘affected’ melody as in the case of the third movement of the third sonata. In addition the elegiac quality of the opening of the B minor sonata proves to be most moving. This sonata continues with an Allegro which features clever imitation between the flute and the right hand of the harpsichord. Unison passages are crucial and here the tuning is perfect, not always an easy feat with a harpsichord. I was reminded in the middle section of the B minor of Rameau’s ‘Pièces de Clavecin en concert’. An ‘Affectuoso’ ensues which uses the cool sound of the lute stop on the harpsichord. The closing Presto is, not surprisingly, rather Italianate.

Raehs’ sonatas are three movement affairs and being entitled ‘Sonatas for flute and basso continuo’ seem to reflect a slightly earlier age. The second sonata ends, unusually, with a minuet and variations. The third sonata ends with a very spirited Allegro. These works are consequently shorter than Scheibe’s but no less affecting and certainly not un-virtuosic.

Raehs was a conservative having been brought up in Denmark. He travelled to England on several occasions and enjoyed it. He met émigrés like Bononcini, Geminiani and Handel. Geminiani’s sonatas and concertos, many of which are in three movements, may well be models.

Raehs ended his days where he had begun, by taking over from his late father in Aarhus but ending up in the Royal Orchestra as its leading flautist.

Maria Bania is also a recorder player and has an especial interest in unusual baroque repertoire; most of her work has been in Scandinavia. She has a rich tone capable of vibrato and of elegance. Lars Ulrick Mortensen has also trained in Scandinavia. He plays with appropriate rubato and dextrous finger-work and uses the instrument with as much colour as possible. Unfortunately the date and maker of the instrument are not specified.

There is an excellent and useful booklet essay by Jens Henrik Koudal.

An enjoyable release although possibly more for the specialist.

Gary Higginson

 

see also review by Michael Cookson

 



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