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The Virtuoso Recorder III - Concertos of the English Baroque
Robert WOODCOCK (1690-1728)
Concerto No. 5 for two 6th flutes, strings and bc in D* [7:11]
John BASTON (c.1685-1740)
Concerto No. 3 for treble recorder, strings and bc in G [6:59]
William BABELL (1698-1723)
Concerto for 6th flute, strings and bc in e minor, op. 3,3 [11:20]
Concerto No. 8 for transverse flute, strings and bc in D [6:09]
Concerto No. 4 for two 6th flutes, strings and bc in e minor* [5:45]
Charles DIEUPART (c.1667-1740)
Concerto for 5th flute, two oboes, strings and bc in a minor [4:26]
William BABELL
Concerto for 2 treble recorders, strings and bc in F, op. 3,6* [9:37]
Concerto for violin, oboe, strings and bc in A [2:52]
William BABELL
Concerto for 6th flute, strings and bc in D, op. 3,2 [8:19]
Concerto No. 9 for transverse flute, strings and bc in e minor [6:01]
Concerto No. 6 for two 6th flutes, strings and bc in D: gavotte with 2 variations* [3:24]
Michael Schneider (recorder, transverse flute), Jung-Hyun Yu* (recorder)
Capella Academica Frankfurt/Michael Schneider
rec. 2013, large hall, Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Frankfurt/Main, Germany. DDD
CPO 777 885-2 [73:06]

Since the renaissance the recorder became one of the most popular instruments in England, both among professional musicians and among amateurs. It remained popular until the end of the 18th century. This explains why many collections of recorder music were published in London, including many by composers from the continent. These included the Italian Francesco Mancini and members of the Loeillet family from the southern Netherlands. There were also some home-grown composers of music for recorder, and three of them are represented on the present disc.

Robert Woodcock was born and died in Chelsea, near London, and was educated as a woodwind player. Whether he was a professional or a (good) amateur is uncertain. It is known that he composed an Ode for St Cecilia's Day which has been lost. His only extant compositions are the XII Concertos in Eight Parts published in London in 1727. It was one of the first editions with concertos for wind instruments in Europe. Three concertos are for one and three for two sixth flutes (recorders in D), three for the transverse flute and three for the oboe.

William Babell has become especially known for his arrangements of instrumental music and arias from Handel operas and of the violin sonatas op. 5 by Corelli. A feature of his arrangements is their virtuosity as he added a lot of notes to what the composers had originally written. His efforts in this department were sharply criticised by Charles Burney: "Mr Babel … at once gratifies idleness and vanity". We know little original music from his own pen; an Ode for St Cecilia's Day has been lost; a handful of keyboard pieces have been attributed to him. The main collection of music is a set of six Concertos in 7 Parts, op. 3 which were published posthumously around 1726. Four of them are for sixth flute, one for two sixth flutes and one for two treble recorders.

It is not known where John Baston was born or where he died; New Grove doesn't give the years of his birth and death, but the track-list for this CD has c.1685 and 1740 respectively, probably the result of recent research. He was active as a player of the recorder and the cello. He was a member of the orchestras of Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre and later the Drury Lane Theatre. He played concertos - including his own - during the intervals of opera performances; in this he followed Handel's practice in playing his organ concertos. It is posssible that this also goes for most other concertos on this disc. Six Concertos in Six Parts for Violins and Flutes, viz. a Fifth, Sixth and Consort Flute, published in 1729, are the only extant compositions from his pen. They are not judged favourably in New Grove: "Years of theatre experience showed Baston how to write lively, robust opening themes by balancing short phrases; they are, however, melodically undistinguished." This is confirmed by Michael Schneider who states that Baston "lacks, by and large, the ability to put his musical thoughts into meaningful order." He decided to include, "as a sort of curiosity", the third concerto from this set "whose first and last movements are not only identical but consist entirely (apart from a non-modulating ritornello) of a series of sequencing melodic snippets spliced together like an improvised cadenza".

It seems reasonable to include Baston in a disc which aims at giving a picture of what was written for the recorder in England at the time, but musically these examples are uninteresting. I would have preferred a complete recording of Woodcock's Concerto No. 6 from which here only the gavotte with variations is performed. It is a most delightful piece and confirms the positive impression of the other concertos from his pen included here. Particularly good is the Concerto No. 5 with its nice dialogues between the two recorders. These twelve concertos seem well worth being recorded complete. Let us hope that will happen some day.

Babell may have acquired a somewhat dubious reputation - the concertos included in the programme are of fine quality. The Concerto No. 2 includes an imitation of the nightingale in the third movement which follows the previous movement attacca and opens with a solo of the recorder.

Rather curious are the two very short concertos by Charles Dieupart, a composer of French birth who had settled in England and has become best known for his set of suites for harpsichord, alternatively scored for flute or violin and bc. In the Concerto in a minor the recorder is joined by two oboes but they are mostly to be heard in the tutti. The Concerto in A has solo parts for violin and oboe, but as the three movements are very short there is little room for the soloists to shine.

It seems that few concertos for recorder were written in England at the time. That could well have been due to the fact that composers focused on amateurs rather than professionals. Publishers like Walsh printed considerably more collections of sonatas than of concertos. Even so, the concertos recorded here deserve to be performed and recorded. I can hardly imagine a better performance than they get here. Michael Schneider doesn't try to make too much of them, for instance by adding excessive ornamentation. Jung-Hyun Yu is his equal partner in the double concertos. The tutti are given fine performances by the Cappella Academica Frankfurt. This is a worthy sequel to the previous discs devoted to concertos from Germany and Italy respectively.

Johan van Veen


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