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Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Concerto in F, for soprano recorder and strings [13:09]
Sonata no.11 in F, for recorder and continuo [13:04]
Sonata no.21 in B flat, for recorder and continuo [7:45]
Sonata no.23 in F, for recorder and continuo [10:38]
Sonata in A minor, for cello and continuo [11:15]
Trio Sonata no.4 in G, for 2 recorders and continuo, op.1 [10:59]
Giovanni Battista SAMMARTINI (1700-1775)
Sonata in D minor, for harpsichord [4:35]
Collegium Pro Musica/Stefano Bagliano (recorder)
rec. Santa Maria del Prato church, Genoa, Italy, 28-30 September 2008. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

Like many labels, Brilliant have still not realised the potential for confusion to be had by labelling a disc simply "Sammartini". On seeing the name, the average listener will presume quite reasonably - as did this reviewer a few years back - that Giovanni Battista is indicated, not his less well-known older brother Giuseppe - much in the same way that "Haydn" is universal shorthand for Joseph rather than Michael.

Though Giovanni Battista was longer-lived and his music better known today, Giuseppe was the more cosmopolitan of the two, spending the last nearly 25 years of his life in London, where he mingled with a good many influential composers from different countries anxious to take advantage of the more liberal arts scene in England.

Unlike Giovanni, Giuseppe was wholly a composer of the Baroque and his music is typical - archetypical - of the era. He was widely held to be the 'Vivaldi of the oboe' - he was soloist in Handel's own orchestra - and his facility with wind instruments is self-evident in most of these pieces, in which he makes significant demands of the soloist.

The recorder/flute works themselves are a mixture of the slow-fast-slow-fast and fast-slow-fast four- and three-movements standards of the late Baroque/early Galant era, with the titles comparatively interchangeable. Halfway through their programme, somewhat curiously, Bagliano and all but one of the Collegium Pro Musica take a five-minute break for a short but attractive Harpsichord Sonata by Giovanni Battista, his only contribution to the disc. And then, sandwiched between the final two recorder works by Giuseppe there is a windless Cello Sonata attributed to the same. This is the only slow-fast-fast work, and quite possibly the best on the disc - slightly ironic, given that the CD is entitled "Recorder Concerto and Sonatas".

The Collegium Pro Musica has a fine, warm, authentic sound, with their period instruments and historically informed mannerisms. Bagliano plays well too, although Sammartini's music often stretches the soloist's lungs to their limits, and in one or two places Bagliano does sound as if he is on the verge of running out of air, only to miraculously recover for yet another extended virtuosic run. Whether or not the blending of soloist and ensemble is at its optimum under Bagliano's recorder-playing direction is an arguable question.

The recording quality is excellent, although soprano recorder and flute soloists usually benefit from being less closely miked than the rest of the ensemble, and Bagliano might have shown a little more restraint when taking deep breaths.

The booklet notes are signed Stefano Bagliano, 2011, which is a bit of a puzzle, because at least a third of the text is identical - almost verbatim - to the New Grove entry on Sammartini, and that is authored by brothers' expert Bathia Churgin. There is perhaps too much data on Bagliano compared with the Collegium or even the works of Sammartini's performed here. The back inlay has the only track-listing. Thus there is no indication of what the "First recording" stated here refers to - certainly Giuseppe's Concerto in F has been recorded a few times before. Nor is it entirely clear who is playing what where. The Collegium's members are all listed beneath the track details, but not helpfully attached to any music they play a prominent part in. For example, there is a subsidiary role for theorbo in the Sonata in F - Diego Cantalupi is listed as 'theorbo', but not typographically linked to that Sonata. These are all untidy odds and ends that could and should have been fixed prior to publication.

Yet these are minor depreciations. This is a bountifully filled disc of splendid music in first-rate performances, and an admirable and overdue addition to the discography of Giuseppe Sammartini, who deserves much more public recognition for his memorable melodies, imaginative harmonies and counterpoint skills.

As a bonus for those who think it is high time musicians jettisoned the formal dress of earlier decades - or centuries, in some cases! - the booklet includes a colour photo of Collegium Pro Musica posing with instruments, in which they look so casual that the booklet should carry a health warning for members of the Vienna Philharmonic.


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