William FLACKTON (1709-1798)
Viola Sonata (pub. 1770) Op. 2 in C major, No. 4 [10:28]; in C minor, No. 8 [8:33]; in D major No. 5 [9:37]; in G major, No. 6 [9:23] a+b
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sonata in G minor, Op. 1, No. 6 (pub. c. 1733) [6:37] a+b
Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787)
Sonata in C major WKO 184 [6:17] a+c
Kathryn Steely (viola) (a); Vincent de Vries (harpsichord) (b); Adrienne Steely (cello) (c)
rec. 21-22 May 2010 (tracks 1-18) and 11 September 2010 (tracks 19-20) in the McLean Foyer of Meditation of the Armstrong Browning Library on the campus of Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
MSR CLASSICS MS1379 [51:11]

William Flackton was born in Canterbury and at the age of nine became a chorister in the cathedral choir. Subsequently he was active as a stationer/bookseller and publisher, organist of a church in Faversham, viola-player and composer. He is usually considered to have been the first English composer to write for solo viola. Possibly for this reason, his viola sonatas seem to be his best-known works. His Op. 2 consisted of three sonatas for cello and three for viola (I assume Nos. 4, 5 and 6), but on publishing a second edition Flackton added a further sonata for each instrument. The brief notes include this quote from his Preface to the first edition: “The solos for a Tenor violin are intended to shew that instrument in a more conspicuous manner than it has hitherto been accustomed...” These viola sonatas, relatively undemanding both technically and musically, are attractive works, without being particularly distinctive. Many viola-players will have learnt at least one of them before progressing to more challenging repertoire. The first two sonatas recorded here follow the slow-fast-slow-fast pattern, the final movement of the C major being a minuet with simple variation and second minuet in the tonic minor, while the C minor has merely a minuet plus variation. The D major and G major Sonatas are slow-fast-Minuet I-Minuet II. Both second minuets are again in the tonic minor. The opening movement of each of the four sonatas is florid with embellishment, either written out or ornamented. As these sonatas rarely appear in recitals, this CD should be welcomed. Indeed, it seems to be the only music by Flackton currently available.

The Handel Sonata in G minor, according to Thurston Dart, is “something of a mystery”. It was originally printed for “Hoboy solo”, but “the range of the solo part together with the immensely long roulades of the last movement make it quite unsuited to any contemporary wind instrument” (Dart) There is some evidence that the work was intended for viola da gamba. Says Dart: “there can be little doubt that this was the instrument Handel originally had in mind.” Anyway, it is a fine piece in four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast), the brief third movement leading directly to the finale without a break. It suits the viola well and, unsurprisingly, is musically richer than the other sonatas recorded here. Ms. Steely makes a handsome sound, but it is perhaps a bit beefy for this music. Also, a little more imagination – variety of tonal colour - might have helped to present these pieces in an even better light. I find Ms. Steely's slower tempos for the minor-key minuets of the three major-key sonatas a bit lugubrious and not very convincing. Still these are very acceptable performances and it is good to have this unfamiliar repertoire available on CD.

German-born Carl Friedrich Abel was an outstanding gamba-player who wrote a large quantity of music for his own instrument, as well as symphonies and string quartets. His friendship with J. C. Bach led to the establishment of the celebrated Bach-Abel concerts in London – England's first subscription concerts. The Abel Sonata on this disc was originally composed for Viola da gamba and bass/continuo. I find it pleasant but rather unmemorable.

Sadly, the acoustic is too suggestive of a bathroom and far from ideal for this more intimate music.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

Pleasant but rather unmemorable.