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John ECCLES (c.1668-1735)
Suite from 'The Mad Lover' [9:35]
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
Barbara Ninfa ingrata, cantata [14:49]
Charles AVISON (1709-1770)
Concerto in F, op.9,10 [5:52]
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick, 1749:
Song I: The Lass of Peaty's Mill [4:43]; Song II: The
Night her silent sable wore [4:25]; Song III: When
Phoebus bright [5:15]; Song IV: O Bessy Bell and
Mary Gray [2:21]; Sonata III for 2 violins and bc
(The last time I came over the moor) [4:07]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
24 English Songs (HWV 228): The Rapture [4:22]; The
Sailor's Complaint [3:08]
Francesco BARSANTI (1690-1772)
Ouverture in d minor, op. 4,2 [5:27]
rec. January 2008, Cappella Grimaldi, Genoa, Italy. DDD
In the first decades of the 18th century England, and
especially London, developed into one of the main centres of
Many composers from all over the continent travelled to
London to try their luck as performers or composers. The
most famous of them was George Frideric Handel, but there
were many more. And the composers represented on this disc
are only the tip of the iceberg.
The key figure in this programme is Francesco Geminiani. He was an
outstanding violinist and pupil of Arcangelo Corelli. He
didn't fail to present himself as such, because Corelli
was very famous in England and being his pupil would make
it much easier for Geminiani to make a good career. It
didn't take long before he was invited to play at Court,
accompanied by Handel at the harpsichord. Geminiani wasn't
just a famous composer, he was also a prolific writer on
music. In his book 'A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art
of Musick' of 1749 he included the songs performed in this
programme. He mainly used them to demonstrate the correct
way of adding ornaments, the ultimate goal of which should
be to represent the intentions of the composer.
According to the booklet the subject of this recording is the "relationships
between Italy and England". From this perspective
the first item on this disc, a suite of four instrumental
pieces which John Eccles wrote for the play 'The Mad Lover'
is a bit odd. Music for the stage like this was very popular
in England, and after the death of Purcell Eccles became
the main contributor to this genre. Although later in his
career he tried to incorporate elements of the Italian
style into his music, that isn't discernible in this suite
which dates from around 1701. Although it is played quite
well by Il Falcone, it sounds a bit too Italian to me.
In this case I would have preferred some moderation in
regard to dynamic accents.
The inclusion of Avison makes much more sense as he was a strong admirer
of Geminiani. He also was a writer on music, and in one
of his books he dared to state that Geminiani surpassed
Handel as a composer; this caused a fiery debate. In recent
years most of his orchestral music has been recorded, but
here we get probably the most 'Italianate' performance.
This is definitely not the way British ensembles play Avison.
One could argue that this is going a bit too far, but on
the other hand the influence of the Italian masters, especially
Geminiani, is probably better exposed here than in previous
Another Italian who settled in London was Giovanni Bononcini, one
of the most celebrated composers of operas and oratorios
in Europe around 1700. Between 1720 and 1732 he worked
in England, although with frequent interruptions. For his
first two seasons as a composer for the Royal Academy of
Music he was very successful, but soon his Catholicism
became problematic and he met growing resistance. Here
a cantata for solo voice, two violins and bc is performed.
It is introduced by a sinfonia in three sections, the second
of which is a largo with daring harmonic progressions.
After that we get the usual sequence of two recitatives
and two arias. It receives a very fine performance by the
soprano Elisa Franzetti, a singer with a beautiful voice
who sings with much expression and also adopts rhythmic
freedom in the recitatives. The performance is a little
marred, though, by the too reverberant acoustics.
Another Italian in England was Francesco Barsanti. He was born in
Lucca like Geminiani, whom he accompanied to London in
1714. He married a woman from Scotland and had much sympathy
for and understanding of Scottish tunes some of which he
arranged for instruments. Here we hear one of the Overtures
from his op. 4 which also shows Scottish influences. In
the last movement, paesana (allegro con spirito), the sound
of the Scottish folk fiddle is imitated.
Handel did not write many solo songs. Of the two presented here only
the first is authentic; the second is spurious. There is
nothing wrong with the singing in these two songs or in
the songs by Geminiani, but Elisa Franzetti seems audibly
less at home in this repertoire. Her diction is pretty
poor and her pronunciation often rather strange. Even while
reading the lyrics in the booklet it is difficult to understand
what she is singing. It isn't made easier by the often
fast tempi the ensemble has chosen nor by the acoustic
circumstances. The balance between the voice and the instruments
is less than ideal and this certainly doesn’t help either.
This leads me to the performances of the players. I admire their temperament
and often I find their approach refreshing as they rightfully
underline the theatrical character of the Italian repertoire.
However they apply their principles of interpretation too
indiscriminately. As a result they sometimes overshoot
the mark. Their playing is a little unpolished and the
intonation now and then tends to be suspect.
With a little tolerance in these matters there is a lot to enjoy here
and never a dull moment. The concept is original and the
programme has been well put together. In addition this
disc contains much repertoire which is hardly known. Reason
enough for me to recommend this disc. The programme notes
are informative, but the booklet doesn't give the English
translation of Bononcini's cantata. Also the words for
the second half of the first stanza of Handel's song The
Rapture is missing.
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