The first half of the 18th century saw the birth of the solo concerto. It was to develop into one of the main genres in music history until the present day. Unfortunately for recorder players their instrument was gradually overshadowed by the transverse flute at about the same time. As a result there are very few full-blown recorder concertos. Most of them were written by German composers such as Telemann and Graupner. One of the most productive composers of solo concertos, Antonio Vivaldi, only wrote a handful. When the recorder was played it was mainly in domestic surroundings. The repertoire on the present disc bears witness to that. All but one of the concertos belong to the category of the concerto da camera
, with two violin parts but without a part for the viola - except Mancini's Concerto in g minor
. The programme is extended by some sonatas for recorder with basso continuo.
The only 'real' concerto is the first item, the Concerto in F
by Giuseppe Sammartini. This is one of the most famous recorder concertos of the baroque era. Its composer was a virtuoso on the oboe and made a career in London. It was here that the recorder remained quite popular well into the 18th century. In Italy it was especially Naples where many compositions for the recorder were written around 1730. One of the main sources is the so-called 'Naples manuscript' which includes 24 concertos - each of them called sonata
- for recorder and strings. Among the composers are Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Mancini. The latter is responsible for no fewer than twelve pieces which comprise his complete output for this scoring. The full set has been recorded by Corina Marti and the Capella Tiberina (review
). The Concerto in g minor
is one of the few that includes a viola part but still has the character of a concerto da camera
. Mancini was a rather conservative composer: counterpoint is a dominant feature of his sacred music, and that goes for these concertos as well. This piece follows the texture of the Corellian sonata da chiesa
: there are four movements and the second is a fugue.
Nicola Fiorenza is also a Neapolitan composer. For some years he taught the violin, the cello and the double-bass at one of Naples' conservatories. He he was dismissed a couple of years before his death because he maltreated his students. The Concerto in a minor
is in four movements; the first and the third having the indication grave
No fewer than three works are recorded here for the first time. That is the case with the Sonata in B flat
by Hasse. It was found in the library of Count Harrach, who came from Vienna and acted as Habsburg Viceroy in Naples from 1728 to 1733. Apparently he was a great lover of the recorder as his library includes many pieces for the instrument. Hasse was in Naples at the end of the 1720s, and this explains the presence of this piece in Harrach's library. It is notable that the sonata is designated a cantata
. It is a quite dramatic piece in three movements, with the closing allegro
the preceding adagio
. That is a movement full of pathos which doesn't quite come off here because Schneider's tempo is a bit too fast, more like an andante. Although the recorder's dynamic range is rather limited, he could have introduced more dynamic shading; it would have made the affetti
more clearly noticeable.
Another first recording is the Concertino in F
by Giuseppe Tartini who was mainly known as a virtuosic violinist. Sonatas and concertos for his own instrument form the main part of his output. We know of only a couple of concertos for other instruments from his pen; some of them are marked as "doubtful" in New Grove
. One of them is a flute concerto in F; whether that is the same as this concertino I don't know. It is a substantial piece in three movements. More than doubtful is the Concerto in B flat
which is scored for flauto piccolo
, two violins and bc. It is attributed to George Frideric Handel on the manuscript in the Rostock University Library. Scholars are absolutely sure that this is not authentic, and even the average lover of Handel's music will immediately agree that this is not from his pen. A Breitkopf catalogue of 1763 offers a concerto for flauto piccolo
with the same incipit
; whether it is the same concerto is impossible to say. It says that it is di Montenari
which isn't particularly helpful. Schneider suggests a certain Francesco Montanari, but gives no further information about this composer. New Grove
doesn't mention a composer with this name.
Leonardo Vinci is another Neapolitan. He made a name as a composer of comedies and later turned to writing in the genre of the opera seria
. For some time he was connected to the court of the Viceroy and was a teacher at one of the conservatories. Pergolesi was one of his pupils. Only very few instrumental works from his pen have come down to us. The Concerto in a minor
was fairly recently discovered in the library of Rochester (USA). The last work of the programme is a sonata by Giovanni Antonio Piani. He was a brilliant violinist, born in Naples, and settled in Paris in 1704. In 1712 he published a set of twelve sonatas, six for violin and six for flute or violin, with basso continuo. It is the only work from his pen which is known. Not long ago Emilio Percan recorded four sonatas from this set (review
). The above-mentioned Harrach manuscript includes one of these sonatas, transposed to E minor and scored for recorder. As this arrangement includes various errors Schneider decided to play the original sonata from Piani's set, also in a transposition to E minor.
This rounds off a highly interesting disc which is attractive and not only to lovers of the recorder. Despite the largely identical scoring the quality and various features of individual sonatas and concertos guarantee much variety within the programme. Michael Schneider has paid much attention to the ornamentation which performers were expected to add. The most striking example is the slow movement from Tartini's concertino. Here Schneider adds quite a lot of ornaments, following the model of an adagio with Tartini's own ornamentation which was printed in Paris. Those who know Sammartini's concerto will also immediately be struck by the improvisatory elements in Schneider's performance. Sometimes I felt that the strings could have played with a bit more fire and passion. This is Italian music, after all. I also would have liked a little more dynamic differentiation. Those things haven't spoilt my enjoyment, though. The inclusion of three first recordings make this disc an especially important release.
Johan van Veen