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A Noble Entertainment: Music from Queen Anne’s London
William WILLIAMS (?1675-1701)

Trio Sonata No.6 in F major, ‘in immitation of Birds’ [6:35]
Daniel PURCELL (c.1664-1717)

Trio Sonata No.2 in G minor [4:19]
William CORBETT (1680-1748)

Trio Sonata in C major Op.2, No.4 [4:52]
Nicola Francesco HAYM (1678-1729)

Sonata in A minor / E minor for cello and basso continuo [3:57]
James PAISIBLE (c.1656-1721)

Suite No.4 in C minor [8:55]
Johann Christian PEPUSCH (1667-1741)

Trio Sonata in F major [4:55]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

Suite No.2 in G minor for solo harpsichord [8:02]
Gottfried KELLER (d.1704)

Trio Sonata No.4 in B flat major [4:17]
Gottfried FINGER (c.1665-1730)

Trio Sonata in G minor [4:54]
James PAISIBLE (c.1656-1721)

Sonata in c minor, Op.1, No.3 for two treble recorders [9:27]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Trio Sonata in F major HWV405 [5:43]
The Parnassian Ensemble: Sophie Middleditch, Helen Hooker (recorders); Joseph Crouch (cello); David Pollock (harpsichord)
rec. 18-20 January, 2003, National Centre for Early Music, York. DDD
AVIE AV2094 [66:19]

 

This is a delightful CD, an entertainment fit for nobles indeed – and for all other classes too. The musicianship is excellent, the programme is well designed and more varied than it might superficially appear to be. One particular pleasure is the chance it gives us to hear music by names we don’t often encounter on CD.

Take Nicola Francesco Haym, for example. A Roman by birth, Haym was both a musician and a writer. He came to England near the very beginning of the eighteenth century. He worked as a librettist for Handel – including Ottone, Tolomeo, Giulio Cesare in Egitto and Rodelinda. He was active as an antiquarian, publishing works on English coins and medals. He also wrote works on Italian literature and edited Torquato Tasso’s great poem Gerusalemme Liberata. He worked for Sir Robert Walpole as an advisor in the purchase of paintings. And this obviously cultured man continued to write music too. Given the variety of his cultural activities, there is a sad irony in how John Aikin’s account of Haym, in his compendious General Biography (1799-1815) closes: "This ingenious person, who seems to have possessed too many arts to thrive by any, died in 1729 or 1730". Peter Holman’s interesting notes to the present CD say that Haym was "the first Italian cellist to settle In England" and tell us that the Sonata recorded here "seems to be an early work, written in Rome in the 1690s. It is a conventional four-movement work except for the fact that, most unusually, the pairs of movements are in different keys". So not really all that conventional at all! It is a fine piece, the opening adagio a short movement of beautiful gravity; the subsequent allegro is full of Italian panache (and again very short); two subsequent movements – an elegant adagio and a witty presto – complete a lovely sonata in miniature. Is there more of Haym’s music to be heard?

Or consider the case of Gottfried Finger, a Moravian virtuoso of the viol de gamba who first came to London to work in the Chapel of James II. But the accession of William III in 1688 effected a huge reduction in the royal patronage of music. Finger turned to the promotion of concerts at York Buildings, near the Strand, to the publication of his own music for private performance (such as the Trio Sonata recorded here) and to the writing of music for the public theatres. In 1704 he left England for Vienna – apparently in a huff because he placed only fourth, behind John Weldon, John Eccles and Daniel Purcell, in a popular contest to decide who was the best writer of music for the London theatres! His Trio Sonata in G minor is a sequence of five movements, which closes with a delightful jig. There are some attractive melodies in the Sonata, and – in this performance at any rate – a consistently dancing rhythm.

There is also music by the rather better known figure of Johann Christoph Pepusch, the Prussian who moved to England around 1704. Perhaps his greatest fame resides in his collaboration with John Gay on The Beggar’s Opera (1728). But we do Pepusch an injustice if we forget that he was also an important musical theorist and one of the founders of the Academy of Ancient Music. He devoted much time to the study of Greek music, which continued to fascinate him until his death, at an advanced age. Burney’s judgement on him – in his General History of Music – is shrewd. He calls him a "profound musician"; but observes that "as a practical musician, though so excellent a harmonist, he was possessed of so little invention, that few of his compositions were ever in general use and favour, except one or two of his twelve cantatas, Alexis, and his airs for two flutes or violins, consisting of simple easy themes or grounds with variations, each part echoing the other in common divisions for the improvement of the hand". The evidence is here for us to hear.

As well as musical ‘immigrants’ such as these – and others such as Paisible, Keller Handel – little known English figures such as William Williams and William Corbett are represented on the CD. Both acquit themselves adequately, compositionally speaking, and I am glad to have heard these pieces, but neither can be said to make any major claims on the attention of posterity. The two Purcells are a different matter. Henry’s harpsichord suite No.2 gets a fine performance from David Pollock on a modern copy of a 1636 instrument by Andreas Ruckers, which was enlarged and ‘improved’ by Henri Hemsch in 1763; Henry’s younger brother Daniel is represented by a Trio Sonata in G minor, a fine and subtle piece – isn’t it time for a full reassessment of Daniel’s work, an attempt to see/hear it free of the overshadowing presence of his brother?

Of Handel’s presence perhaps little need be said. His Trio Sonata, which closes the disc – and it might have overwhelmed some of the other works had it appeared earlier – readily persuades one that he was, as Ben Jonson wrote of Shakespeare, "not of an age, but for all time!".andelhan The only work Handel composed for two recorders and continuo, it immediately demonstrates his mastery of the genre.

I am not an unqualified lover of the recorder. If, therefore, I say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the playing of Sophie Middleditch and Helen Hooker on this disc, it should be understood as a very real compliment! And they certainly profit from the accomplished work of Joseph Crouch and David Pollock.

For its exploration of little-known repertoire and its mixture of familiar and unfamiliar composers; for its thoroughly assured musicianship; for its well-balanced and clear recorded sound – this is a CD which will give much delight to any listener wishing to explore the music of the English baroque.

Glyn Pursglove


 



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