The Trio Sonata in 18th-Century England
John (Giovanni) RAVENSCROFT (?-c.1708)
Sonata in G, op. 1,8 [5:43]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sonata in g minor, op. 2,5 (HWV 390) [10:40]
Charles AVISON (1709-1770)
Sonata in d minor, op. 1,1 [8:01]
William BOYCE (1711-1769)
Sonata in D, [op. 1],5 [7:46]
Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710-1778)
Sonata in G, op. 3,2 [9:20]
George Frideric HANDEL
Sonata in D, op. 5,2 (HWV 397) [8:38]
Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787)
Sonata in G, op. 3,1 (WKO 80) [9:49]
Thomas ERSKINE, Earl of Kelly (1732-1781)
Sonata VI in G [9:31]
London Baroque (Ingrid Seifert, Richard Gwilt (violin), Charles Medlam (viola da gamba), Steven Devine (harpsichord))
rec. March 2009, Länna Church, Sweden. DDD
BIS CD-1765 [70:58]
In the first half of the 17th century the Italian style quickly disseminated across Europe. Two countries offered strong resistance: France and England. When that resistance broke down around 1700 composers and audiences completely fell for it. Italian music, and especially the oeuvre of Vivaldi, became very popular in France. In England it was Corelli's music which was frequently played by the amateur music societies across the country. The liner-notes to this disc quote Roger North: "It is wonderfull to observe what a skratching of Corelli there is everywhere - nothing will relish but Corelli ...". The programme of this disc demonstrates his influence on the style of composing in England in the 18th century. At the same time we can observe the shift from Corelli's style in which counterpoint dominates. The movement was toward the galant idiom which emphasizes the melody played in the upper voice, with the second treble part reduced to a supportive role.
The programme opens with a sonata by the English composer John (or Giovanni) Ravenscroft, who lived in Rome and was probably a pupil of Corelli. Very little is known about him; we don't know where he came from and when he was born, neither has the year of his death been established. He was one of the first composers to write sonatas of the Corellian type with a sequence of four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast. Like Corelli he included fugal movements. Around 1735 some of his sonatas op. 1 were reprinted as Corelli's op. 7 which bears witness to their stylistic similarities.
In the first half of the 18th century the English music scene was dominated by Handel who had also embraced the Italian style. The programme includes two sonatas from his collections of trio sonatas which were published as op. 2 and op. 5 respectively. The form of the trio sonata was particularly popular and publishers tried to take advantage of that. John Walsh first printed the trio sonatas op. 2 under the name of the Amsterdam publisher Roger, and made sure the publication was riddled with errors in order to infuriate Handel in such a way that he was only too happy to allow Walsh to publish an 'authorised' edition. This appeared around 1730, but it is likely that the six sonatas were composed much earlier, well before 1720. The second set was printed as op. 5 in 1759 and includes mostly arrangements of orchestral and operatic music. The third movement from the Sonata No. 2 in D is based on music from the ballet at the end of act one of the opera Ariodante.
One of the strongest advocates of the Italian style was Charles Avison. He had a huge admiration for Francesco Geminiani, whom he rated higher than Handel. His trio sonatas op. 1 follow the model of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. In the first sonata the opening movement is split into two sections: a very short and dark adagio is followed - after a general pause - by an andante. The complete set has been recorded by The Avison Ensemble (review).
English-born composers such as William Boyce and Thomas Augustine Arne have remained more or less in the shadow of the towering figure of Handel. They played their own role in English musical life, though, which is still not fully appreciated. The Sonata in D by Boyce is from a collection of twelve which were enthusiastically received. More than 600 copies of the first edition of 1747 were sold by subscription, and it was followed by two further editions. The complete set was recorded by The Parley of Instruments (review). They follow the Corellian model; four of them are in three movements, though. The Sonata No. 5 in D is one of them and ends with a fugue.
Arne will always be associated with the song Rule Britannia, from his masque Alfred. It was in particular music for the theatre that held his interest, and his contributions to the genre are substantial. His instrumental oeuvre is relatively small; the Eight overtures in 8 parts are among his most frequently performed works. Very little of his chamber music has been recorded. In 1757 a set of seven sonatas for two violins and bc was published. Here we hear the shift from the contrapuntal style of Corelli to the galant idiom. In the last movement the first violin dominates whereas the second mostly plays an accompanying role.
The galant style takes over in the last two pieces on this disc. Carl Friedrich Abel was a gambist by profession and settled in England in 1758/59 where he became an important figure in the music scene. This was not only as a performer and composer but also, together with Johann Christian Bach, as one of the organisers of the Bach-Abel concerts. The six sonatas op. 3 were printed in 1761 and scored for two violins or flute and violin with basso continuo. The Sonata No. 1 in G has recently been recorded in the latter scoring by Georgia Browne and Nordic Affect (review). They recorded some other trio sonatas as well.
The disc started with a rather curious composer, it ends with another: Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kelly. He came from a Scottish landowning family, learned to play the violin and went on a Grand Tour across Europe. He may have been a pupil of Johann Stamitz for a while. Like Abel's op. 3 Erskine's six sonatas which were printed in 1769 were scored for either two violins or for flute and violin with basso continuo. The first treble part is totally dominant, with the second providing harmonic support.
This disc is part of a series devoted to the trio sonata in various European countries in the 17th and 18th centuries (see below). The playing of London Baroque is, as always, stylish and engaging, with perfect ensemble. The tempi are well chosen, with enough contrast between the various movements. There are various good recordings of Handel's sonatas, but the rest of the programme is far less well-known and some pieces are probably recorded here for the first time. That makes this disc even more worthwhile.
In short, another very fine release in this interesting series.
Johan van Veen
Another very fine release in London Baroque's series devoted to the trio sonata.  

Reviews of other releases in this series
Germany 17th century (BISCD1545)
France 18th century (BISCD1855)

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