Francesco Mancini is one of the representatives
of the Neapolitan school of the first half of the 18th century,
although one of the lesser-known, in comparison to the likes of
Pergolesi or Porpora. He studied the organ at the Conservatorio
di S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini, and then acted as organist.
In 1704 he became organist of the royal chapel and in 1708 vice
maestro di cappella
under Alessandro Scarlatti, whom he
succeeded in 1725. In 1720 he was also appointed director of the
Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto.
Despite his education as an organist, his main activity was the composition of operas. In addition he wrote a considerable number of oratorios and liturgical works. The latter seem to have been particularly popular as many of them have been found in libraries all over Europe. Instrumental music makes only a small proportion of his oeuvre, but ironically it is this part of his output which is best-known today.
The reason is that most of it is scored for recorder. And as the repertoire of recorder players is relatively limited it is understandable that Mancini's compositions meet great interest. In addition his recorder sonatas are very well written. The article on Mancini in New Grove
says that he was "a skilful writer of melodies", and the recorder sonatas bear witness to that. Other features of his style are a good command of counterpoint and rich harmonies, and these are reflected in the sonatas on these discs as well.
Mancini's best-known recorder sonatas are included in the so-called 'Naples manuscript' which is kept in the library of the Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella in Naples, and bears the title Concerti di Flauto, Violini, Violetta e Basso, di Diversi Autori
. Among the various authors the title refers to are Mancini, Alessandro Scarlatti and Domenico Sarri. Although they are called 'sonatas' these pieces are in fact 'concertos'. A selection from this manuscript has been recorded recently by Bart Coen and the ensemble Per Flauto (Sony 88697564082). The Ensemble Tripla Concordia has recorded a collection of twelve sonatas for recorder and basso continuo which first appeared in London in 1724. This edition is called Solos for a violin or flute
. In the second edition of 1727, which was used for this recording the violin wasn't mentioned anymore. The first edition was dedicated to John Fleetwood Esq, who was the English Consul General to the Kingdom of Naples. It is likely that this dedication opened the possibility for this collection to be published in London. This guaranteed a wide dissemination as the recorder was particularly popular in England, whereas on the Continent it was ousted by the transverse flute.
The fact that Mancini was a successful opera composer is clearly audible in these sonatas. Many contain dramatic features, especially in the first two movements. Various opening movements are in binary form, and start with a fast section which then - often without a pause - merges into a slow section. In the second movements, many of which are fugues, the closing episodes often contain strong contrasts. The third and fourth movements are more light-weight and some last movements have the character of a showstopper. Or at least, that is how the artists treat them.
I have no doubt that they are right in doing so. Their interpretation of these sonatas is spot-on. The dramatic elements are fully explored. Lorenzo Cavasanti - called Casavanti at the cover - is a brilliant artist, who plays with zest and flair, and Caroline Boersma and Sergio Ciomei realise the basso continuo in a lively and often quite dramatic manner. As a result these performances are very captivating, never allowing the listener's attention to wander off. The second disc is a reissue; it was first released by the Italian label Nuova Era. But there is little difference in the performances, although Cavasanti plays with a bit more freedom in the recording of 2009.
This set is a must-have for all recorder aficionados. Those who are not may still enjoy these discs, with infectious performances of well-written and entertaining music. The booklet is poor: there is more information about the artists than about the composer and his music.
Johan van Veen