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Viola Galante
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Trio in G minor for viola and harpsichord obbligato, Wq88 (H510) (1759) [16:55]
William FLACKTON (1709-1798)
Sonata in C minor, Op.2 No.8 (c.1770) [8:05]
Giorgio ANTONIOTTO (c.1692-c.1776)
Sonata in E Flat major (1753) [6:42]
Franz (František) BENDA (1709-1786)
Sonata in C minor, LeeB 3.137 (c.1761) [9:58]
Sonata in F major (c.1745-55) [7:25]
Christlieb Siegmund BINDER (1723-1789)
Trio in D major for viola and harpsichord obbligato, FleB 2.10 (1771) [14:40]
Pauline Sachse (viola), Andreas Hecker (harpsichord)
rec. 2016, Fürstenhaus, Festsaal, Weimar
C-AVI MUSIC 8553312 [63:46]

The Galant style and the pursuit of Empfindsamkeit, or sensitivity, is the rationale behind this disc of viola music and one could hardly programme a more representative example than CPE Bach, whose Trio in G minor opens things. It was composed in 1759 for viola da gamba, though Bach was later to recognise the alternative version for viola, and the Trio appellation relates to the three independent parts – the two hands of the keyboard and the viola. Only two instruments are involved. Full of his characteristic moments of harmonic side-stepping and sudden silences, this caprice-inflected work, cast in three movements, impresses for its aloof but incrementally expressive slow movement as much as for the lively and engaging finale. This too can’t resist upsetting expectations, as the piece ends in a kind of irresolution.

William Flackton was an almost exact contemporary of CPE Bach – he was in fact five years older – but his style is altogether less progressive. In fact, from his c.1770 Op.2 sonatas we hear No.8 in C minor, which whilst taut and attractive, doesn’t sound Galant at all. By the time it was published it must have sounded distinctly Handelian and the model is clearly Baroque, not least in its comfortable use of four movements, the only such example in the programme. The Bach and Flackton have been recorded before, but it seems as if the remainder of the programme is new to disc.

Giorgio Antoniotto is the oldest composer here, Milanese-born, about whom little definitive seems to have been recorded. He seems to have lived and worked in Amsterdam and London but returned to his native city at around the time Flackton’s sonatas were published and died a few years later in 1776. There’s much more ornamentation and opportunity for flair in Antoniotto’s E flat major Sonata than in Flackton’s more circumscribed and later model (this sonata was written in 1753). The joyful fast aria is its heart, the flying decoration in the finale and interesting harmonies a delight.

The Czech composer František Benda is represented by two sonatas. Famous for his long-breathed Adagios, it’s worth hearing this brace of barely known viola sonatas. He is typically eloquent and elegant in the C minor and in the earlier F major the compressive warmth of his opening slow movement is followed by a fine Allegro moderato and the fast passagework in the finale. Christlieb Binder was a Saxon court harpsichordist and composer. His sonata is a fine example of equal distribution of material. The echo and repeat effects are also well-judged, both in conception and in performance, and there’s a most attractive flowing elegance about his work as well as a welcome ebullience in the finale.

In their quest for appropriate performing style, Andreas Hecker plays on a 2000 replica by Bruce Kennedy of a Michael Mietke harpsichord made in c.1700. Pauline Sachse’s viola is a 1610 Maggini, strung with gut, and the bow is a Thomas Gerbeth late Baroque model. The concert pitch selected is based on that commonly used in Leipzig, which was A=415Hz. Interestingly, Berlin pitch seems to have been 410Hz.

The performances are supple and thoughtful and make a good case for some little-known music. You can find four of the Op.2 Flackton sonatas on MSR MS 1379. The recording rather favours the viola, and one can hear Pauline Sachse’s sniffs – hardly a novel feature of recordings, I agree - whilst Andreas Hecker’s harpsichord is, for me, just a little too recessed. Nevertheless, with good notes this (if we must be pedantic) Galant-and-Baroque disc will make friends.

Jonathan Woolf

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