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Roberto VALENTINI (c.1671-1747)
Sonata I C Major [3:05]
Sonata IX C Minor [6:11]
Sonata XII C Major [5:40]
Sonata X E Minor [4:57]
Sonata VI G Major [5:43]
Sonata III G Minor [6:51]
Sonata VIII C Major [6:35]
Sonata XI F Major [5:41]
Sonata VII A Minor [7:17]
Sonata II D Major [4:09]
Sonata V G Minor [6:21]
Sonata IV F Major [7:56]
Ensemble Mediolanum: Sabine Ambos (alto recorder); Felix Koch (cello); Wiebke Weidanz (harpsichord)
rec. August, 2006, Lutheran Church of Florstadt, Germany. DDD
RAMÉE 0701 [70:27]


Leicester to Rome! Robert Valentine was born – admittedly into a family of musicians – sometime in the early 1670s in that venerable Midlands city not otherwise renowned for its composers. He managed to make it to Rome by 1701 at the latest and soon appeared as a violinist at Santa Cecilia and flautist and oboist at public performances in Rome; he also taught recorder. Clearly the going was tough for Valentine not least because of the presence of the contemporary local, Giuseppe Valentini: by this time Robert had become ‘Valentini’ or ‘Valentino’. He even tried self-publishing at a time when the musical spotlight in Rome shone far more brightly on singers.

He composed sixty recorder sonatas - with basso continuo and for two recorders alone. Some clearly show the influence of Corelli, whom Valentini is thought to have worshipped, and to study with whom may have been the reason for his move to Rome in the first place. Those that make up the present recording are all from the fifth volume of a manuscript preserved at the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma. They share so many stylistic similarities that it seems likely they were all written at about the same time: the openings and endings tend to be written in unison, concertant, style; affettuoso rhythmic figures predominate; rising chromatic passages alternate with slower ones where the ornamentation is fully written-out.

The set of a dozen sonatas here can be divided into two broad types… perhaps specifically two planned ‘cycles’. The first has brevity as a hallmark and a fast-slow-fast structure is employed, Valentini seemingly freeing himself from Corelli’s influence. Typical of this approach are the second and fourth sonatas, in D Major and F major. Then the pieces in the second collection – the ninth and tenth, for example - are more demanding technically: they begin with a slow movement, expansive and richly ornamented. Sonata 12 is notable, unrivalled beyond Valentini in Italian recorder literature of the time including that of Vivaldi: it contains a descriptive, figurative movement, ‘La Posta’.

Long a mainstay of amateur recorder and continuo players, Valentini is thought by some to be too unchallenging, too easy. Listen to the excellent playing on this disc and such thoughts will dissipate instantly. It’s neither so adventurous, nor individualistic as the music of, say, Albinoni (a contemporary of Valentini); certainly it lacks Vivaldi’s flair.

Yet here is pure music, expertly performed and of sufficient intrigue for you to want to play certain sonatas again and pay closer attention than critics ("Yet another Baroque recorder sonata CD") might have you believe you should. If there is a sameness, it’s the consistency of something rather delicate, inventive and of some lovely sounds. There is, particularly, lots of variety in tempi and the ways in which movements develop. Ensemble Mediolanum never lets the momentum drop. Every moment of expression, lively, bathetic, surprising (listen to the very end of Sonata IV, for instance) is attended to smoothly and with panache.

Hoch’s cello is an anonymous English original from around 1800 while Ambos and Weidanz play modern reproductions. The sound of the three in Ensemble Mediolanum really is that of an ensemble; although at times the harpsichord is a little closely miked, they play with great style and produce a mellow, tempered sound for the duration of this pleasing CD.

Mark Sealey


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