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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Flute Sonata in E minor, HWV 359b [6.43]
Flute Sonata in G major, HWV 363b [7.48]
Flute Sonata in B minor, HWV 367b [14.34]
Flute Sonata in D major, HWV 378 [6.48]
Flute Sonata in E minor, HWV 379 [11.58]
Dorothea Seel (transverse flute)
Luca Guglielmi (harpsichord)
rec. 2009, Kartause Mauerbach, nr. Vienna, Austria
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC16005 [48.07]
 
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Flute Sonata in G major, Op. 2/2 [13.39]
Flute Sonata in D major, Op. 50 [16.54]
Flute Sonata in A major, Op. 64 [12.20]
Grand Rondeau Brillant in G major, Op. 126 [15.43]
Dorothea Seel (flute)
Christoph Hammer (fortepiano)
rec. 2018, Marthashofen, Grafrath, nr. Munich, Germany
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC18103 [58.41]

Here are two albums from Hänssler Classic, performed by flautist Dorothea Seel. First a 2015 release of Handel Flute Sonatas with harpsichordist Luca Guglielmi and a new release of Hummel’s Flute Sonatas and Grand Rondeau Brillant with accompaniment from Christoph Hammer on fortepiano. A specialist in Baroque and Classical repertoire I notice that Seel has played in renowned period instrument ensembles such as The English Concert, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightement, Concerto Köln and Concentus Musicus Wien and is artistic director of Barocksolisten München.

Whilst in Italy, Handel familiarised himself with Corelli’s groundbreaking Op. 5 set of twelve violin sonatas published in 1700. Clearly Handel was too individual and talented a composer to merely imitate both Corelli and Geminiani. In the early eighteenth century the flute was an extremely popular instrument and Handel was commercially aware that by writing these sonatas suitable for playing by talented amateurs he was fulfilling the demand for such works. It is not known for certain how many Flute Sonatas Handel actually wrote and according to the booklet essay, soloist Seel has elected to record here only those five that scholars consider as authentic Handel works. I notice that the so-called ‘Halle Sonatas’ of doubtful origin have not been included.

Some of the Handel sonatas here are arrangements of other works. The Sonata in E minor, HWV 359b is derived from a violin sonata in D minor, the Sonata in G major, HWV 363b is based on an oboe sonata and the lengthy seven-movement Sonata in B minor, HWV 367b comes from a sonata for recorder and basso continuo. The Sonata in D major, HWV 378 exists in a manuscript discovered at Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel in the 1970s and there is a Handel manuscript of the five-movement Sonata in E minor, HWV 379 that contains arrangements of other works.

Adopting historically informed performance practices, Seel and Guglielmi use instruments that are period copies. Seel is playing a transverse flute (by Rudolf Tutz, Innsbruck 1994, after Denner) and Luca Guglielmi a harpsichord, built by Titus Crijnen of Amsterdam, after Ruckers. These are dedicated performances, full of of insight, from Seel and Guglielmi, strikingly fresh; they sparkle with energy in the outer movements together with noticeably refined musicianship. Recorded for Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF) at a chamber in the former Carthusian monastery at Mauerbach the sound is of an entirely satisfactory quality. Although slightly closer recorded, the harpsichord has a slightly clearer focus than the transverse flute. Ideally, I prefer more space around the flute which here begins to distort a tad in the louder passages. In the accompanying booklet there is a helpful essay by Dr. Franz Gratl.

On the new release of Hummel Flute Sonatas soloist Dorothea Seel is joined by Christoph Hammer on fortepiano. Hummel was born in the city of Pressburg, in the Kingdom of Hungary, which is now Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Writing during the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras Hummel enjoyed considerable acclaim during his lifetime, however his works are much less often encountered today and he is mainly represented by his renowned trumpet concerto. Recordings of his works do appear in the catalogue but not as often as his talent deserves. Probably the most important Hummel release (from 2018) is the Hummel Edition, a twenty CD collection on Brilliant Classics.

Spanning something like a twenty-year period from say 1792 to 1810 I find these three Flute Sonatas agreeable and well written works. The Sonata in G major, Op. 2/2 was inspired by the young Hummel’s trip to London with his father; it is a work that shows the influence of Mozart and Clementi. Both the Sonatas in D major, Op. 50 and A major, Op. 64 are products of his late Vienna years with the keyboard part a more equal partner to the flute. A late work from his Weimar years, it’s the Grand Rondeau Brillant that I consider the finest and most appealing work on this Hummel album. It has a Cantabile introduction, a theme and seven variations with a Rondo-Finale, a work which holds my attention from start to finish.

For this recording Seel has chosen from her collection an early Viennese flute with ten keys, circa 1825, made by Johann Ziegler. Seel explains that “a characteristic feature of the early nineteenth century Viennese flute was the successive increase in the number of keys and the quest for an ever-deeper register. As these instruments were played by Viennese orchestras, they are the obvious choice for Hummels’s works, offering a realization of authentic sound”. Hammer uses a compatible instrument of the period, an original fortepiano of 1827 built by Conrad Graf and now part of the Buhl historical instrument collection in Marthashofen village, Bavaria. Entirely musical, Seel’s engaging performance on her Viennese flute is fluent and polished but it feels as if Christoph Hammer is labouring with a stiff and exacting fortepiano. Seel and Hammer were recorded at Marthashofen, a chamber sized concert hall in the building where the Buhl instrument collection is held. Although the sound quality is acceptabl,e the woody sounding Conrad Graf fortepiano is clear but not the most appealing that I’ve heard and for my taste the flute is recorded slightly too closely and over-brightly. In the booklet Dr. Franz Gratl’s essay contains considerable detail and is an interesting read. In truth the short playing time of each album is meagre by today’s standard and maybe an additional work or two from a contemporary composer could have been included.

Of these two albums, both performed on period instruments, I consider the Handel to contain the superior works overall, although Hummel’s Grand Rondeau Brillant is a very fine piece. These are two interesting albums both worthy of consideration from flautist Dorothea Seel who plays exquisitely throughout.

Michael Cookson

 

 



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