Neapolitan Flute Concertos
Giuseppe de MAJO (1697-1771)
Flute Concerto in G [12:25]
Gennaro RAVA (?-1779)
Flute Concerto in b minor [11:22]
Tommaso PROTA (1727?-after 1768)
Flute Concerto in C [7:54]
Niccolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774)
Flute Concerto in D [13:14]
Antonio PALELLA (1692-1761)
Flute Concerto No. 2 in G [13:54]
Auser Musici/Carlo Ipata (transverse flute)
rec. November 2008, Montemagna, Pisa, Italy. DDD
HYPERION CDA67784 [58:51]
The 'Neapolitan School' is often referred to in encyclopedias and books on the history of music. But this term mainly relates to music for the stage - in particular operas and intermezzi - rather than instrumental music. In this category it is mainly music for strings which is of historical importance, not music for the transverse flute. This disc with flute concertos by Neapolitan composers may therefore come as a surprise. But that makes it all the more interesting.
In his programme notes Stefano Aresi suggests Gennaro Rava was probably the only one of the five composers who had a thorough knowledge of the possibilities of the flute, presumably because he was a flautist himself. Aresi also writes that there is no evidence of virtuoso Neapolitan flautists. Nevertheless these concertos suggest that they were played by performers of considerable skill.
The only generally-known composer on this disc was Niccolò Jommelli. In the main it is his operas that have secured his name in our time. He was an important link in the development from the baroque era to the classical period. Musical innovations which are often attributed to the Mannheim school, like the orchestral crescendo, are in fact of his making. In comparison to the huge number of vocal works in his oeuvre, the number of instrumental works is negligible. The Concerto in D - which New Grove labels as a ‘quartet’ because of its scoring for flute, two violins and bc - is a very fine composition. The largo is an example of impressive lyricism. This concerto was probably not written in Naples.
None of the other names is likely to ring a bell with music-lovers. That doesn't mean these composers were nobodies. Most of them made a good career, although sometimes with the help of influential people. Giuseppe de Majo, for instance, became primo maestro of the royal chapel, as successor of Leonardo Leo. He was chosen above more famous contenders like Porpora and Durante, thanks to the preference of Queen Maria Amalia. His Flute Concerto in G - the only piece on this disc with a part for viola - may have been written for a performance at the court.
Like De Majo Tommaso Prota and Antonio Palella were educated at one of the four Naples conservatories. Prota was a member of a family of musicians. Very few compositions have come down to us; his stage works are all lost. The Concerto in C is not his only work for flute: his op. 1 is a set of six sonatas for two flutes and bc. Antonio Palella was mainly active in the theatre, and adapted a number of stage works of other composers. New Grove lists one flute concerto; this Concerto No. 2 in G proves that he wrote at least two.
Is this music indispensable? No, it is not. Don't expect music which shakes the world. On the other hand if you ignore this disc, you rob yourself of one hour of good musical entertainment, in infectious performances. The ensemble is immaculate, Carlo Ipata is a brilliant flautist and together they make the most of this repertoire.
The recording is flawless and the booklet - as always with Hyperion - exemplary. There is every reason to welcome this disc. Flute aficionados certainly shouldn't miss it.
Johan van Veen
One hour of good musical entertainment, in infectious performances