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Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Concerto grazioso
Concerto grosso in e minor, op. 5,1 [07:07]
Concerto grosso in B flat, op. 5,2 [09:48]
Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 5,3 [10:12]
Concerto grosso in a minor, op. 5,4 [09:37]
Concerto grosso in c minor, op. 5,5 [08:20]
Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 5,6 [11:39]
Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in E flat [13:23]
Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F [07:29]
Andreas Böhlen (recorder)
Dominik Melicharek (oboe)
Capriccio Barockorchester/Dominik Kiefer
rec. 2013, Stadtkirche St. Martin, Rheinfelden, Switzerland DDD
TUDOR 7186 [77:35]

Although Giovanni Battista Sammartini is considered the father of the modern symphony and had considerable influence on Haydn, his oeuvre is certainly not very well known. Even worse is the fate of his older brother Giuseppe, who has gone down into history as one of the greatest oboists of his time. His oeuvre is not that large, and a substantial part is available on disc, but his is certainly not a household name nor one which regularly appears in concert programmes.

Giuseppe was the son of an oboist of French birth who had settled in Milan. His surname, Saint-Martin, was italianized as San Martino or Martini. His father was probably his first teacher and by 1711 he was already playing with him in an orchestra. He and his brother were listed as oboists at S. Celso, Milan, and in 1720 the ‘Sammartini brothers’ were oboists in the orchestra of the Teatro Regio Ducale there. In 1728 Giuseppe went to Brussels and then to London. Here he gave his first public performance in May 1729. He entered the orchestra of the Haymarket Theatre as an oboist, and in 1736 he was appointed ‘master of musick’ by the Prince of Wales, son of King George II. Until his death he acted as the music teacher of Augusta, Princess of Wales. It is no surprise that Sammartini was greatly admired by George Frideric Handel. After all, it is known that Handel had a special liking for the oboe and in 1776 John Hawkins wrote about Sammartini that he “was undoubtedly the greatest [oboist] that the world had ever known. (...) [He] contrived to produce such a tone as approached the nearest to that of the human voice of any we know of”. Handel expressed his admiration by writing some virtuosic obbligato parts in opera arias. In March 1741 Handel asked Sammartini to play the curtain music solo for the last performance of Il Parnasso in festa.

Although Sammartini was a virtuoso oboist, only a few of his compositions are specifically intended for the oboe. That is less remarkable than it seems. Sammartini probably composed most oboe music for his own use and there was no market for music which was beyond the capabilities of amateurs. The work-list in New Grove mentions a handful of oboe concertos; it is also noted that some of the grand concertos op. 8 are in fact oboe concertos. The Concerto in E flat is one of Sammartini’s most famous compositions and has been recorded several times. It is notable that it adopts the ritornello form of Vivaldi’s concertos, but is in four movements rather than in three, as was common in the latter’s concertos. The same is the case in the Concerto in F for recorder, which is not the same as the concerto in the same key which is regularly performed and recorded and which is in three movements. The concerto recorded here is an early composition; it was published in 1717 by Jeanne Roger in Amsterdam.

The Concerti grossi Op. 5 were published in 1747, but are not original. They are arrangements of movements from ten of the twelve trio sonatas Op. 3 which had been printed in Paris in 1743. The two solo violin parts and the basso continuo part are almost identical with the trio sonata parts. Sammartini added two ripieno violin parts and a ‘basso repieno’ as well as a part for viola. Dominik Sackmann, in his liner-notes, observes that the trio sonatas already bear the features of the concertos. “[The] Trio Sonata on which Concerto V is based already has Tutti and solo entries, which suggests a concertante plan”. There is quite some difference between these concerti grossi, in the number and order of the movements, their character and the way the concertino is treated. The Concerto in a minor, for instance, opens with a pretty dramatic allegro. Whereas in this concerto the four movements are of almost equal length, the structure of the 6th Concerto is very different: the first and third movements, both called spiritoso, are very short. The fourth movement is a much longer rondo and the concerto ends, as so many concerto grosso collections at the time, with a pastorale. Some concertos have only three movements; the sarabanda which closes the Concerto No. 3 in g minor is in two sections, both with a lively character, and not slow, as one probably would expect in a sarabande.

Although these concertos are scored for strings, in this recording recorders and oboes are added in some of them. This is justified by “the flexibility of Sammartini's scoring in the various versions of his Sonatas Op. 3 and Concerti Op. 5”. It is known that Corelli’s concerti grossi were sometimes performed with additional wind instruments. I don’t know whether this was a wide-spread practice at the time. I probably would have preferred a version with strings alone. That said, these concertos receive excellent performances here and especially as this seems to be the very first recording of the complete set one can only be happy with this release and welcome it wholeheartedly. The recorder concerto is an interesting addition to the catalogue. Full marks to Andreas Böhlen for his fine performance of the solo part and to Dominik Melicharek for his interpretation of the oboe part in the Concerto in E flat.

Giuseppe Sammartini definitely deserves more attention.

Johan van Veen



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