All Your Cares Beguile - Songs & Sonatas from Baroque London George Frideric HANDEL (1685/1759) Acis and Galatea (HWV 49): Sinfonia [3:03]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Music for a while (Z 583/2) [3:34]
Fantasia upon one note (Z 745) [3:06]
The Faery Queen (Z 629): Dance of the Chinese Man and Woman [4:12]
Nicola MATTEIS (?-after 1713) Passagio rotto [2:43]
Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667-1752) Sonata in g minor, op. 2,12 [9:07]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) Sonata in G (K 22) [2:38]
Sonata in a minor (K 3) [3:49]
Sonata in d minor (K 18) [4:19]
Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768) Sonata in d minor, op. 2,12 [16:05]
Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710-1778) The Tempest: Where the bee sucks [1:56]
George Frideric HANDEL Giulio Cesare (HWV 17): V'adoro pupille [5:41]
Sonata in F (HWV 392) [12:44]
Martin Davids (violin), David Yearsley (organ)
rec. 15-17 May 2006, Sage Chapel, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., USA. DDD
MUSICA OMNIA MO0111 [75:26]
From the late 17th century onwards England, and especially London,
developed into one of the main centres of music in Europe. Musicians
from various countries settled there and looked around for employment.
Others just passed through, displaying their skills in public
concerts and then leaving again for another country. This disc
presents music by some composers whose music was performed in
One of the first immigrants was Nicola Matteis, born in Naples
and entering England around 1670. He astonished audiences by
his virtuosity on the violin and published some books with pieces
for unaccompanied violin. These are expressions of his sometimes
bizarre imagination. Before the turn of the century Matteis's
example was followed by Johann Christoph Pepusch (not ‘Johann
Christian’ as the track-list says) who was from Prussia and
entered England in 1697. Here he developed into a respected
composer. His oeuvre has been overshadowed by his involvement
in the performance of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera in
which the Italian opera was ridiculed.
The success of this opera, first performed in 1728, contributed
to the troubles of George Frideric Handel, who settled in London
in 1712 and became the main composer of Italian operas. Until
the late 1720s he was very successful in this department. The
fact that he was also invited to compose music for royal and
state occasions bears witness to his dominant position in the
English music scene. His popularity also resulted in arrangements
of arias and instrumental pieces from his operas. His chamber
music was also much sought after.
Francesco Maria Veracini was one of those musicians who just
passed through in the 1730s. He was from Italy and travelled
through Europe as a performer on the violin. He wasn't only
known for his virtuosity, but also for his arrogance. Charles
Burney wrote that "Veracini was so foolishly vainglorious
as frequently to boast that there was but one God, and one Veracini".
This judgement didn't hold him back from acknowledging that
he was "the first, or at least one of the first, violinists
Domenico Scarlatti never visited England, but his music was
very popular there. Only one collection of sonatas for keyboard
was published in his lifetime, and it was not by chance that
it was printed in London. The three sonatas on the programme
are from this collection.
In addition to music by foreigners, pieces by two native English
composers are added. Henry Purcell was the most celebrated English
composer before the era of Handel, and his music was held in
high regard even in the early decades of the 18th century. In
some of his works Handel was clearly inspired by him. Thomas
Arne is the best-known English composer of the generation after
Handel. He had the bad luck to be overshadowed by immigrants,
first by Handel, and after his death by two other native Germans,
Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel. Even so, he considerably
contributed to the music for the theatre.
It is not that easy to give a fair judgement of this disc. From
which angle should one look at it? First of all, nearly the
whole programme consists of arrangements of some sort. Only
the two pieces by Matteis are played in the scoring intended
by the composer: violin without accompaniment. The three sonatas
by Scarlatti were written for harpsichord which doesn't exclude
a performance at the organ. The sonatas by Handel, Pepusch and
Veracini one is probably not inclined to call 'arrangements'.
The performance of the basso continuo in chamber music at the
organ is certainly an option, although it seems highly unlikely
that organs were used in public performances. Moreover, the
organ used here is more of the format of a modest church organ
than of an instrument used in private rooms where chamber music
was usually played. As David Yearsley is not afraid to explore
the full powers of the organ the basso continuo part is more
prominent than with a harpsichord or a positive. From that perspective
performances like on this disc can be considered 'arrangements'.
From an historical perspective there is nothing wrong with arrangements.
Handel frequently arranged music by colleagues, and his own
music was also often arranged by others. But if you are looking
for arrangements as they were in the time of the composer performances
of vocal pieces by Purcell, Handel and Arne with organ and violin
are not all that plausible. Whether the interpreters care about
this I don't know. David Yearsley ends his liner-notes thus:
"We make our arrangements of these songs and sonatas in
the tradition of opportunistic adaptation Handel so brilliantly
and unapologetically cultivated".
So let us say that these arrangements are partly unhistorical,
even if they are played with period instruments. The ultimate
question then is: do they work? The three sonatas by Scarlatti
work pretty well, although the second (K3) is not that convincing:
the repeated descending figure doesn't come off very well, and
can only be realised by using a slower tempo than would be ideal.
In the sonatas for violin and bc the organ is often too dominant.
But the performances as such also leave something to be desired.
The fast movements are mostly done well, although the andante
from Handel's ‘Sonata in F’ is played like an adagio. The slow
movements are generally too flat, with far too little dynamic
The arrangements of the vocal pieces are quite odd, and I really
didn't like them. An opera aria with full-blown organ and a
violin is very strange. The short figures at the line "till
the snakes drop from her head" from Purcell's Music
for a while are very unnatural. The Fantasia upon one
note is even more curious: the 'one note' is played here
by the violin, with the organ performing the other parts. This
way the subject of this piece is singled out in a way the composer
obviously did not intend. An interesting question is whether
the mean-tone temperament which leads here to severe dissonants,
is in line with Purcell's intentions, even though this temperament
was common in Purcell's time.
Taking all things into consideration, I find this recording
not very helpful in painting a portrait of the multi-coloured
London music scene in the early 18th century. From a historical
perspective the performances are questionable, and musically
they are largely unsatisfying.
Johan van Veen
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