Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
Recorder Sonatas
Sonata I in F [9:46]
Sonata II in C [8:48]
Sonata VI in g minor [6:45]
Sonata IV in F [7:28]
Sonata III in d minor [8:37]
Sonata V in F [8:23]
Sonata VII in d minor [8:59]
(Tommaso Rossi (recorder), Marco Vitali (cello), Raffaele di Donna (bass recorder), Ugo di Giovanni (archlute), Patrizia Varone (harpsichord))
Ensemble Barocco di Napoli
rec. 8-10 June 2013, Chiesa dell'Arciconfraternita di S. Maria Visita Poveri e dei SS. Bernardo e Margherita (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Graziella), Naples, Italy. DDD
The present disc bears witness to the remarkable connection between Naples and the recorder. The best-known collection of Neapolitan recorder music is a manuscript of 24 concerti da camera known as Manoscritto di Napoli 1725. Among the composers represented there are Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Mancini. The latter also published a collection of twelve recorder sonatas in London.

It is not easy to explain why so much music for the recorder was written in Naples. The Italian musicologist Dinko Fabris has suggested it could be due to a visit to Naples by the German flautist Johann Joachim Quantz in 1725. However, it is hard to see why an exponent of the transverse flute would have stimulated the composing for the recorder which in other parts of the world was on the way to becoming obsolete. Moreover, in his liner-notes to this disc Tommaso Rossi states that the archives of the Neapolitan conservatories "testify to the presence of the recorder as early as 1704 among the wind instruments taught". He adds: "One infers an important role for the recorder also from examining the scores [of] operas and serenades of the period 1710-1730, where its use is linked to the evocation of pastoral and bucolic scenes, with an evident descriptive role".

The seven sonatas by Leonardo Leo are recorded here for the first time, with the exception of the Sonata III in d minor which was included by Daniel Rothert in the programme of on his disc 'Tesori di Napoli' (review). They are from a collection which was put together by the Austrian Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach (1669-1742) who from 1728 to 1733 was Viceroy of the kingdom of Naples - from 1707 Naples had been occupied by Austria - and was a great lover of music and sponsor of the arts. Today the greater part of the collection is preserved in the New York Public Library; other sources have remained in the Harrach Family Archive in the Austrian State Archives. Why the collection includes a remarkable number of recorder pieces is impossible to say. The Viceroy may have played the instrument himself - in that case he must have been a quite skilful player - or he may have had a recorder player in his household.

The fact that Leo composed sonatas for the recorder is equally remarkable as he was first and foremost a composer of vocal music, in particular operas. The work-list in New Grove includes a long list of operas, serenatas, prologues, feste teatrali, sacred dramas and oratorios as well as a considerable number of sacred works. To that many chamber cantatas, arias and duets can be added but these have not been completely sorted out as yet. In comparison the roster of instrumental works is rather short, and doesn't include any recorder sonatas. His best-known instrumental works are six cello concertos which belong to the standard repertoire of the baroque cello today.

If a composer had such credentials in the realm of opera one may expect operatic traits in his instrumental music. That is certainly the case in his cello concertos as well as in these recorder sonatas. Some of the fast movements in particular include unmistakable theatrical gestures, and some of the slow movements are quite expressive. Those features come across quite well in these performances. Rossi sometimes slightly varies the tempo in the interests of expressive force. He could have gone yet a step further; here and there I felt that key moments would have been emphasized by slowing down the tempo and giving them more weight. A particularly notable aspect of these performances is the differentiation in the scoring of the basso continuo, reflecting a variety in the performance practice of the time. In the Sonata I, for instance, it is performed by cello, archlute and harpsichord, but in the Sonata IV we hear only the harpsichord. Especially interesting is the Sonata V where the archlute is joined by the bass recorder, a quite unusual choice for the scoring of the basso continuo part.

This is a very fine disc which I have greatly enjoyed. Recorder aficionados will love it.

Johan van Veen

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