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Sonate e Concerti – Chamber Music of the 18th Century
William CORBETT (1680-1748) Sonata in C, Op.1/12 for trumpet, oboe and continuo [8:32]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sonata in G, BWV1030, for flute, violin and continuo (attribution doubtful) (1721-23, rev. c.1735) [7:25]
Gottfried FINGER (c.1660-1730) Sonata in C (arr. Ludwig Güttler) for trumpet, violin, oboe and continuo [7:00]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Concerto in g minor, RV107, for flute, oboe, violin, cello and continuo [8:11]
attrib. Johann Joachim QUANTZ ? (1697-1773) Concerto in E for corno da caccia, oboe, violin and continuo [7:26]
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782) Quintet in G (Op.11/2?) for flute, oboe, violin, cello and continuo (1774) [9:00]
Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1751) Concerto in C (arr. Walter Heinz Bernstein) for trumpet, flute, oboe, violin, cello and continuo [10:36]
Leipziger Bach-Collegium (Karl-Heinz Passin, flute; Bernd Schober, oboe; Roland Staumer, violin; Michael Pfaender, cello; Hans-Jürgen Schmidt, double bass; Friedrich Kircheis, harpsichord)/Ludwig Güttler (trumpet and corno da caccia)
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany, 15-18 October 2007. DDD.
Booklet with notes in German, English and French.
CARUS 83.415 [58:33]
Experience Classicsonline



Unless you have an incurable aversion for the trumpet or the corno di caccia – one or the other features in over half the pieces here – this is a thoroughly enjoyable recording. I was so taken with it that, after my initial play-through, I put aside the other reviews which I was working on. I am particularly grateful to Ludwig Güttler and the Bach-Collegium for the rare opportunity to hear the work of William Corbett and Gottfried Finger.

William Corbett is a very rare creature indeed. I confess that I had not heard of him before receiving this CD for review, though he has made a few recorded appearances. On a BIS disc entitled The Musical Treasures of Leufste Bruk he appears alongside Vivaldi, Marcello, Tartini and some less well-known contemporaries (Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble, BIS-CD-1526 – see review). Another of his Trio Sonatas appears on a CD entitled A Noble Entertainment: Music from Queen Anne’s London alongside Henry Purcell, his brother Daniel and Handel (The Parnassian Ensemble, Avie AV2094 – see review). Both CDs received appreciative reviews on Musicweb.

The Avie CD also contains a Trio Sonata in g by the other little-known composer on the new Carus CD, Gottfried Finger, a Moravian composer who settled for a time in London. A Sonata in C for trumpet, oboe and basso continuo also appears in a recital by the Leipziger Bachsolisten (no relation to the Bach-Collegium) on Querstand VKJK0227. If this is the same Sonata as the one on the new CD, the Bachsolisten rattle it off much more quickly, which would accord with Johan van Veen’s comments on over-fast tempi on that recording (see review.) I had no such misgivings about the present performance.

Another recording of Baroque Chamber Music featuring Finger’s Sonata No.3 in C for trumpet, violin and continuo failed to be completely convincing. (Berlin Classics 0013892 – see review). I mention this last CD for a special reason, since the performers there are none other than Ludwig Güttler and the Leipziger Bach-Collegium in an earlier incarnation, with a different oboist and violinist, some thirteen years before they made the Carus recording. Their Berlin Classics recording also includes the JC Bach Quintet in G, Op.11/2, for flute, oboe, violin, cello and continuo. I presume that both the Finger and the JC Bach are the same works that are included on the Carus recital – I can only presume because, apart from the Corbett sonata and the Vivaldi concerto, Carus fail to specify opus numbers, the only serious shortcoming in their presentation. In the case of the JC Bach, I have made an educated guess: I believe the Op.11 works to be his only works in this form.

If I am correct, these performers have tightened up their interpretations of these two pieces – and for the better, since I thought these performances very well judged.

The Corbett and Finger sonatas are hardly major works but they are both very attractive. In the Corbett, the trumpet and oboe are more or less in equal dialogue throughout, except in the beautiful Sarabande second movement, where the plangent tones of the oboe are uppermost. Perhaps inevitably, except in that second movement, the recording balance favours the trumpet. In the sonata by Gottfried Finger the trumpet is rather better integrated into the sound picture.

The sonata attributed to JS Bach which comes between these two works offers a relief from the trumpet. Though billed as a doubtful work, to my ears it sounds like the work of the composer of the Musical Offering. In fact, I wonder why this is listed by Carus as doubtful, when Bach’s autograph of the original parts exists, as the notes point out ("die Originalstimmen ... von Bachs eigener Hand"). If it was intended as an academic exercise for his son CPE Bach, as the notes suggest, it shares with the Musical Offering and the Well-tempered Clavier the distinction of combining an academic purpose with an attractive piece of music. The instruments here are well integrated in the sound pattern, but the continuo might have benefited from being more audible, especially when the German notes draw attention to the bass writing. This note is one of the important points which have been edited out of the English and French versions.

If the Bach work hints at that master’s hand, the Vivaldi positively proclaims its authorship. Yet its clear Vivaldi identity does not prevent its sounding fresh and individual – no excuse for the old jibe about Vivaldi writing the same concerto 500 times – in this sensitive and lively interpretation. I did just wonder if the second movement, Largo, might have benefited from being taken a shade slower.

Ludwig Güttler’s formidable technique is clearly the major attraction here, hardly surprisingly, with such a long track-record of success, but the pieces where the trumpet is absent are equally well performed.

For the concerto attributed to Quantz, Güttler turns to the corno di caccia, or hunting horn; he is equally adept here on an instrument described in the notes as specially adapted with valves. My colleague Johan van Veen, reviewing Güttler’s earlier recording on Berlin Classics and suspecting that the trumpet had been similarly modified, noted that "An instrument can’t be considered a ‘period’ instrument when it has been adapted to the capabilities of modern players." Without wishing to be quite so dogmatic, I think he has a valid point. If you want to see two examples of corni di caccia, clearly without valves, try the article on horn on Wikipedia. (Go to the Gallery near the end of the article – they are labelled hunting horn in the English version and the 1694 example, the top one in the Gallery, a corno di caccia in its Italian equivalent).

The ‘Quantz’ is a pleasant but hardly earth-shaking piece. If, like the neighbour in the Flanders and Swan song who caused the performer to find his horn gone, you dislike the sound of the natural horn, it is a mercifully short work.

With JC Bach we enter a different world as the baroque gives way to the galant style of early Haydn. In fact, as the notes partly hint, it was from the style of such wind-band pieces that Haydn’s earliest string quartets developed. This is very civilised music, appropriately performed.

The final work returns us to the trumpet and to Albinoni, the originator of the style heard in most of these pieces. I wanted to know to what extent this piece had been arranged by Walter Heinz Bernstein. The English version of the notes praises the "transparent differentiation of the sonority ... made possible by the writing for flute, oboe and violin" but the German note adopts a different slant, that it was the arranger, not Albinoni, who achieved this effect – "Die hier eingespielte Bearbeitung des Werkes für Flöte, Oboe und Violine von Walter Heinz Bernstein ermöglicht eine transparente Klangdiffizierung" – which makes me wonder if this is actually an arrangement of a concerto for trumpet and organ.

My colleagues who reviewed those Berlin Classics and Querstand CDs wondered what the purpose of those recitals was. The same might be said of the present recording, despite the attempt in the notes and in Carus’s publicity material to justify the programme on the grounds of offering examples of the considerable variety of eighteenth-century chamber music, a variety more apparent to the specialist than to the general modern listener. The Corbett sonata is offered as a prime example of the Corelli type of church sonata or sonata da chiesa and the Finger as a chamber sonata or sonata da camera, but the modern listener is more likely to see the main difference between them as the preponderance of dance music in the Finger sonata. Nor is the difference between the sonata and the concerto likely to be immediately apparent to the average listener, despite the distinction made in the notes: in the sonata the emphasis is on harmony between the instruments, in the concerto both the Latin and Italian meanings of concertare come into play – the former indicating competition, the latter emphasising working together.

Better simply to enjoy the opportunity to hear some rarely-performed eighteenth-century music, very well performed and well recorded – apart from the occasional, hardly very significant, balance issues to which I have referred. If a similar, tentatively connected collection of baroque orchestral works recently received high praise in several quarters, not just from me (Improvisata: Sinfonie con titoli, Virgin 3 63430 2 – see review) why not a concert of chamber works?

The notes are good, but I regret the decision to abridge the English and French translations – if you want all the information, you have to consult the German text. The English translation is idiomatic but, ironically, its abridgement means that the longish quotation from Dr Burney is given in translation only, not in its original English. None of the versions gives us all the details I wanted, such as the opus numbers and the nature and extent of the arrangements of the Finger and Albinoni pieces.

None of these reservations deters me from returning to my original point that this is a most enjoyable recording which deserves to find an appreciative audience.

Brian Wilson

 

 


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