Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Harpsichord Concerto in A major [17:13]
Flute Concerto in D major [9:08]
Flute Concerto in A major [10:55]
Oboe Concerto No.9 in B flat major [14:33]
Oboe Concerto No.12 in C major [10:39]
Donatalla Bianchi (harpsichord), Paolo Ferrigato (flute), Franceso Quaranta (oboe)
I Musici Ambrosiana/Paolo Suppa
rec. September 1998, Auditorium Marcelline Tommaseo, Milan. DDD
DYNAMIC DM8003 [62:24]

We shouldn’t forget that the British have something of a share in the music of Giuseppe Sammartini, in much the same sense that we have a share in that of Handel. It was in London that Sammartini died in November 1750. The Whitehall Evening Post of Saturday 24 November 1750 reported that “Last week died at his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, Signior S. Martini, Musick Master to her Royal Highness and thought to be the finest performer on the hautboy in Europe”. Sammartini had lived and worked in London since the summer of 1728. His greatest fame, as this brief obituary implies, was as a performer, in which capacity he was recorded – and praised – as a member of the orchestra in works by both Bononcini and Handel. He was appointed music master to the family of Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1736 and held the post until his death. During his years in London his chamber music was quite well known; his concertos were, for the most part, published after his death.

Of the concertos to be heard on this disc, it appears that the two flute concertos were probably relatively early works, written before Sammartini’s departure for London. The harpsichord concerto and the oboe concertos - which latter certainly speak of the composer’s own mastery and understanding of the instrument - belong to his years in London and, indeed, suggest how attentively he had listened to Handel.

Of the two concertos for flute, that in A major turns out, after a promising start, to be a relatively dull affair. The initial allegro contains some pleasant melodies and has a charming gracefulness; however, the ensuing andante (especially) and allegro are somewhat pedestrian. Invention is better sustained in the D major concerto, not least in the central siciliano which, though short, sings out delightfully. In the outer movements the music could surely benefit from a good deal more vivacity and punch than the present performers bring to it.

The harpsichord concerto was one of four published posthumously in London in 1754 (Concertos for the Harpsicord or Organ with the Instrumental Parts for Violins, etc. Opera Nona, Printed for I. Walsh). It is an impressive piece, made up of a stately opening movement (marked andante spiritoso), an allegro assai which has some attractive writing for the harpsichord, an andante which has an attractive sense of spaciousness and contains much attractive interplay between orchestra and soloist, as does the closing allegro assai, characterised by an unfussy playfulness. The whole is well-played by Donatella Bianchi - an assured soloist I don’t remember encountering before - and I Musici Ambrosiani.

The two oboe concertos which close the disc are preserved in a manuscript (RM23b8) in the British Library. The manuscript contains twelve concertos, only the last four of which make use of the oboe. The first of the two heard here has some striking writing for the oboe in its first movement, but the following andante and allegro grab the listener’s attention rather less than forcefully; there is a degree of ponderous stolidity in the way the andante is played - though the marking is andante ma non tanto - and the closing movement (tempo di menuetto) is a bit short on ideas. The second of these concertos is altogether more successful. Again in three movements, Sammartini’s writing is far more than merely well-crafted - the sense one has in listening to the first of these concertos; here there is consistent panache, expressed in solo writing of some virtuosity. Sammartini doubtless had his own abilities in mind when writing it, and he presumably performed it during his years in London. The brief central andante is richly expressive and the closing allegro is infectiously lilting. Francesco Quaranta is heard at his best here – and so is Sammartini.

Not all the music here is completely persuasive – but the best is very much so. The performances are always decent – sometimes much more than that.

Glyn Pursglove

A pleasant sampler of Giuseppe Sammartini.