Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Concerto grosso in A, op. 2,1 [08:34]
Concerto grosso in a minor, op. 5,4 [10:07]
Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in C* [17:00]
Overture for strings and bc in F, op. 10,7 [07:37]
Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in g minor, op. 8,5* [06:04]
Overture for strings and bc in D, op. 10,4 [09:30]
Concerto grosso in e minor, op. 11,5 [07:59]
Overture for two horns, strings and bc in G, op. 7,6 [11:23]
Benoît Laurent (oboe)*
Les Muffatti/Peter Van Heyghen
rec. November 2009, Begijnhofkerk, Sint-Truiden, Belgium. DDD
RAMÉE RAM 1008 [79:10]

When the name Sammartini turns up in books about music or liner-notes of recordings it will in most cases be referirng to Giovanni Battista. He is considered one of the pioneers of the classical style, in particular in his symphonies which had some influence on the young Haydn. In comparison his older brother Giuseppe receives less attention, although his chamber music is well represented on disc. But there is still much to be discovered in his oeuvre, as this disc proves. No fewer than seven of the eight pieces on the programme are recorded here for the first time.

Contemporaries sometimes referred to Sammartini as "(San) Martini" which is derived from his father's name: Alexis Saint-Martin. He was of French birth and emigrated to Italy. Here Sammartini was born, probably in Milan. Like his father he became an oboist, and together with his brother he played in the orchestra of the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan in the 1720s. The German flautist Johann Joachim Quantz heard him play and ranked him among the best of his time, on the same level on the oboe as Vivaldi on the violin.

In the late 1720s he moved to Brussels and then to London, where he would remain until his death. It was here that he made a career as a virtuoso on the oboe and as composer. The music historian John Hawkins stated: "As a performer on the hautboy, Martini was undoubtedly the greatest that the world had ever known." He performed with the best musicians of his time, like Bononcini, Porpora and Handel. Many virtuosic obbligato parts in Handel's operas were performed by Sammartini. As a composer he also was rated highly. Hawkins described him as an "admirable composer" and Charles Burney wrote that his compositions were "full of science, originality and fire". In his lifetime the largest part of his printed output comprised chamber music. His concerti grossi and overtures were mostly printed after his death, sometimes deviating considerably from his intentions. The unscrupulous publisher John Walsh printed the Overtures op. 8 with oboe parts which included unplayable passages. At the same time this very fact proves Sammartini's reputation as Walsh wouldn't have printed these pieces if he hadn't expected them to find a good run of customers. The popularity of Sammartini's music is confirmed by the fact that his compositions were frequently performed by, for instance, the Academy of Ancient Music. Even in the 19th century his music still appeared on concert programmes.

The disc opens with the first of the concerti grossi op. 2, the only collection of his orchestral music which has ever been recorded complete. The various concertos and overtures show a wide range of styles and influences, which reflect the various fashions of the mid-18th century. There are some operatic traits, in particular in the Concerto for oboe in g minor, op. 8,5 which is a kind of operatic scena. It begins with an andante sostenuto; the second movement consists of four sections, the last of which is an 'adagio ad libitum' for oboe without accompaniment, which without interruption turns into the closing andante sostenuto. The Concerto for oboe in C is much longer, and a real virtuosic showpiece, reflecting the playing skills of Sammartini himself. The lyrical andante is particularly beautiful. There are many other lyrical movements as well. Interesting is the Concerto grosso in a minor, op. 5,4: in his liner-notes Peter Van Heyghen rightly refers to a similarity with the symphonies of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Elsewhere we find traces of the galant idiom, and there are also old-fashioned movements which are dominated by counterpoint. Lastly, the closing Overture in G, op. 7,6 has strikingly prominent parts for two horns.

This disc is a worthwhile and important release, firstly because of the quality and the variety of the music. In addition Les Muffatti present themselves as strong advocates of his oeuvre. Peter Van Heyghen shares his views on various decisions in regard to performance practice which had to be taken. He argues convincingly that this repertoire can and sometime even needs to be played with more than one instrument per part. He also writes about the decisions in regard to the scoring of the basso continuo. Because of a lack of historical evidence this is sometimes a matter of 'informed guesswork'. Van Heyghen's honesty in admitting this is most praiseworthy as is the decision to record those pieces from Sammartini's oeuvre which are least known. In their previous recordings Les Muffatti have proven to be a first-rate ensemble which brings engaging and animated performances. This disc is no exception. The fast movements are sparkling and energetic, in convincing and never exaggerated tempi. The slow movements are played with great sensitivity and refinement. Benoît Laurent provides an impressive display of his technical prowess and his interpretative skills in the oboe parts. The contributions of Bart Aerbeydt and Michiel van der Linden at the hard-to-play natural horns are equally admirable.

Lovers of 18th-century music are well advised to follow Les Muffatti on their voyage of discovery through Sammartini's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen

Lovers of 18th-century music are well advised to follow Les Muffatti on their voyage of discovery through Sammartini's oeuvre.