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Gottfried FINGER (c.1655–1730)
A Bohemian in London: Violin Sonatas
Sonata in E, RI 132 (No.53) [6:16]
Sonata in A, RI 119 (No.7) [7:00]
Sonata in D, RI 129 (No.9) [6:05]
Sonata in B-flat, RI 125 (No.45) [8:02]
Sonata in B-flat, RI 124 (No.46) [5:06]
Sonata in F, RI 136 (No.47) [5:42]
Sonata in A, RI 120 (No.23) [5:37]
Sonata in b minor, RI 122a (No.14) [6:36]
Sonata in A, RI 118 (No.6) [5:51]
Sonata in F, RI 137 (No.54) [7:51]
Sonata in D, RI 113 (No.15) [3:08]
Sonata in E, RI 134 (No.51) [3:38]
Sonata in F, RI 135 (No.52) [6:36]
Duo Dorado
rec. 2016, St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, UK
Pitch: A = 415Hz. Temperament: 1/6 comma meantone.
The numbers in brackets are from MS GB-Lbl Add. 31466.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from chandos.net
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN0824 [78:00]

This is my first extended encounter with the music of the Moravian composer Gottfried Finger. A sonata in C is included in an arrangement for trumpet on an album of eighteenth-century chamber music from Ludwig GŁttler and the Leipzig Bach Collegium (Carus 83.415 – review) and a short Ground in C appears on the oddly named Mr Handel’s Dinner (Harmonia Mundi HMM902607 – Spring 2019/3).

Most recently, his Ground in d minor for recorder, his Suite in d minor for the same instrument and his Sonata seconda for viola da gamba (RI 146) appeared on a recording by La RÍveuse (London c.1700: Purcell and his Generation, volume 1, Mirare MIR368, with Henry and Daniel Purcell, Blow, Draghi and Croft). We haven’t reviewed that yet, but I very much enjoyed hearing it, a useful supplement to a similarly named but different collection from the Parley of Instruments on Chandos (CHAN0776 – review).

Finger – strictly a Moravian rather than ‘Bohemian’ – came to London where the Restoration had created openings for talented musicians at the courts of Charles II and James II. The conflict between the English composers and their foreign rivals which some has posited seems not to have happened, but he left in something of a huff in 1701 at having come fourth in a competition to set Congreve’s The Judgement of Paris, despite having been in the opinion of the great Dr Burney the best candidate.

His twelve Op.1 sonatas, pro diversis instrumentis (for various instruments, London and Amsterdam 1688) have been recorded by Echo du Danube, works for one to three violins, viola, viola da gamba and harpsichord (Accent ACC24264). We seem not to have reviewed that, though my colleague Johan van Veen writes appreciatively about it on his own website – here – and, having heard it, I think it the ideal introduction to this little-known composer, with rather more variety in the scoring than on the new Chandos album. Of contemporary composers, it seems not unreasonable to compare the music with that of Buxtehude, Biber and, I would add, even Corelli. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library will find the Accent recording there, to be joined shortly by the Chandos.

If the Accent recording would be my first choice, the new Chandos is hardly far behind; though there is a little less variety with just two instruments in play, the music deserves rather more than the description ‘pleasant sonatas in the Italian style’ which it receives in the current edition of the Oxford Companion to Music. To be fair, the joint authors of that article can have had little opportunity to hear performances of Finger’s work.

The Duo Dorado, comprising Hazel Brooks (violin) and David Pollock (harpsichord, organ), made a recording for CRD of the music of William Croft, released in 2011 (CRD3529) and they recorded music by Purcell’s cousin Daniel for Chandos (The Unknown Purcell, CHAN0795). Johan van Veen was only partly convinced by the latter – review. William Kreindler also had reservations about Hazel Brooks’ violin tone and thought the accompaniment rather tentative – review. In reviewing the Resonus release of Daniel Purcell’s Judgement of Paris (RES10128: Recording of the Month) in a round-up of releases on that label, however, I found myself enjoying the Duo’s Purcell more than either of my colleagues, so I began with high expectations of the new release.

As on the CRD recording of Croft and the earlier Chandos of Purcell, some may find Brooks’ tone over-bright, but it’s an issue which she has specifically addressed on the basis of her analysis of music of the medieval and early-modern periods. It didn’t put me off the Croft recording any more than the Purcell; it shows the composer in a different light from his usual church music and it’s certainly worth at the very least streaming from Naxos Music Library .

Even those slightly critical of the earlier releases may well find themselves less so with the new recording. As before, perhaps the slow movements could have been a little more meditative. It’s not a big issue and the outer movements are as lively as one could wish. Brooks’ eighteenth-century violin, rigged in baroque style, with a copy of a bow from 1686, seems just right for the music.

David Pollock provides skilful partnership. Switching between a double-manual harpsichord and continuo organ adds a degree of variety to the sound picture. I found the sonatas with organ accompaniment the more interesting, but that’s a matter of taste.

I can’t claim the discovery of a neglected genius, but the music is all very enjoyable. With performances that largely do it justice, it’s clear why Dr Burney thought so highly of Finger’s music. It certainly helps that, as she writes in the booklet, Brooks had something of a mission to discover what the many unpublished sonatas sounded like when only three had been published, a task facilitated by her work at the University of Leeds where she is sponsored by the White Rose College in researching manuscript music of the period.

The recording is clear and bright, with little of the resonance that one might expect from the acoustic of the church where the recording was made. There is no SACD, but the availability of the 24-bit download compensates, albeit at a premium price: £13.99 when the CD can be obtained for £11.50 (reduced from £12.75) and the 16-bit download for £9.99. As usual, it pays to shop around; I note an increasing disparity in prices, with one dealer asking £17.22 for the CD.

Overall, though I recommend getting to know the Accent recording first, the new release offers an attractive opportunity to get to know this neglected composer.

Brian Wilson



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