Francesco Mancini is one of an echelon of composers from Naples. They played a crucial role in the emergence of the city as one of the music centres of Italy and the dissemination of the Neapolitan style across Europe. During his career he wrote many operas; the first dates from 1696. Between 1698 and 1708 he composed a number of oratorios. Outside Italy he became best known for his sacred music, many specimens of which have been found in libraries and archives across Europe.
Today he is mainly recognised for his instrumental music which is in fact a rather small part of his oeuvre. This comprises almost exclusively music for recorder: the twelve sonatas with basso continuo which are the subject of this disc, and twelve sonatas or concertos with strings and bc which are part of a manuscript, known as the 'Naples manuscript 1725'. Only the sonatas were published, first in 1724 in London as Solos for a Violin or Flute
. Only three years later they were reprinted, and here the reference to the violin had been omitted. This bears witness to the positive reception of these sonatas as well as the continuing popularity of the recorder in England. The first edition was dedicated to John Fleetwood Esq, who was the English Consul General in Naples and had returned to England in 1722. In his liner-notes Guido Olivieri suggests that the publication in London could have been part of an attempt by Mancini to find a position in England. In this he would have been following the example of some of his countrymen before him including Geminiani and Barsanti. However, although at the time of publication Mancini was Alessandro Scarlatti's subordinate in the royal chapel, in 1718 he was given the guarantee that he would succeed the latter as maestro di cappella
; that happened in 1725, when Scarlatti died. Moreover, in 1720 Mancini had been appointed director of the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto, and therefore he seems hardly to have had a reason to move to England.
Opera dominated music life in Naples, and that left its traces in the instrumental music of Neapolitan composers. The present sonatas are no exception. They are modelled after the Corellian sonata da chiesa
, and counterpoint is certainly present here, especially in the second movements which are often fugues. The operatic element is in the contrast between the movements which unfortunately doesn't come off all that strongly here because of the excessively long pauses between movements. There are also contrasts within movements, for instance in the opening of the Sonata V in D
, beginning with an allegro which suddenly breaks off and turns into a largo. The Sonata IV in a minor
also opens with a movement in two sections: the spiritoso is followed by a largo. Not long ago I reviewed
a complete recording of this set by the Italian recorder player Lorenzo Cavasanti. The performance of this movement is quite different as Cavasanti takes the spiritoso much faster and the largo slower. It creates a greater contrast which lends the performance a stronger theatrical character.
That is not to say that this disc by the Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players is not good. I have only compared a couple of sonatas, and the difference is not always substantial. I certainly enjoyed Gwyn Roberts' playing, and the basso continuo group does a good job as well. One aspect which is particularly interesting is that two sonatas are played on the transverse flute. In Italy the term flauto
was used for both the recorder and the transverse flute. Although there can be little doubt that the sonatas were intended for the recorder, it is perfectly legitimate to play them on the transverse flute.
If you add this disc to your collection you certainly won't regret it. This is first-class entertainment, and, considering the theatrical aspects of these sonatas, often more than that.
Johan van Veen
Previous review: Dominy Clements