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Foreign Insult
Nicola MATTEIS (mid 17th century–after 1714) Ground after the Scotch Humour (1685) [4.09]
Gottfried FINGER (1660–1730) Sonata Op. 5, no. 10 in C major (1701) [5.09]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1739) Concerto HWV287 in G minor [8.25]; Trio Sonata HWV 383 in F major [10.14]
Francesco BARSANTI (1690–1722) A collection of Old Scots tunes (selection) (1742) [9.13]
Johann Christian BACH (1735–1782) Quintet op. 11, no. 6 in D major (1774) [13.18]
Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723–1787) Concert in E minor [14.53]
La Ricordanza (Brian Berryman – flute, Annette Berryman – oboe/recorder, Christoph Heidemann and Katharina Huch-Kohn – violins, Bettina Ihrig – viola, Dorothee Palm – cello, Barbara Hormann – violone, Eckhart Kuper – harpsichord)
rec. 5-7 October 2004, Schloss Gifhorn. DDD

There were few Court appointments for musicians in the precarious financial climate of the late 17th century English Royal Court; not to mention the rather frequent regime changes. But London was one of the richest cities in Europe so there developed a lively musical culture catering to the aristocracy and the burgeoning middle classes. As a result, continental musicians frequently came to England to try and make their fortunes and sometimes stayed. The more adventurous or restless composer could eschew the unexciting safety of a continental court appointment for the opportunity of being a freelance musician in London.
Being some distance from the European centres of the musical avant-garde, Londoners were often keen to learn of new fashions and styles from musicians freshly arrived from the continent. The history of baroque music in England after Henry Purcell is very much the history of assimilation of foreign musicians and foreign styles.
This new disc provides a brief survey of chamber music written by foreign composers. The chamber music on this disc was published in London to provide music for the keen amateur market. This is not concert music, but music written for the consumption of talented amateur musicians in their own chambers.
La Ricordanza are an Early Music chamber ensemble founded originally by musicians from the Royal Conservatory in the Hague and the Hochschule for Music and Theatre in Hanover. Their programmes often contain unpublished and forgotten works. On this disc they consist of eight players (flute, oboe/recorder, two violins, viola, cello, violone, harpsichord) and the players come together in various combinations.
The earliest of the composers on the disc is Nicola Matteis, who arrived in London in 1670. Roger North provides most of the biographical information that we have; evidently Matteis was instrumental in revolutionising English violin playing. His book of ‘Ayres’ was extremely well received and went into a second edition two years after its original publication. His ‘Ground after the Scotch Humour’ is a charming example of his attempts to adjust his works to the British taste.
Godfrey Finger was a Moravian composer and gamba player. In 1686 he was a member of James II’s Catholic chapel but after 1688 he stayed on as a freelance impresario, composer and performer. He published numerous chamber works as well as music for the theatre. He left England in 1701 in high dudgeon as his setting of Congreve’s ‘The Judgement of Paris’ failed in the notorious competition; it is possible that the outcome was rigged. On this disc La Ricordanza play his Sonata Op. 5 No. 10 for the unusual combination of recorder, obbligato cello and continuo. It is from a set that Finger possibly used to finance his exit from England.
The best known foreign composer resident in England is of course Handel. La Ricordanza choose to play two of his compositions for which we have no secure date, but whose manuscripts may have come to England with Handel on his first arrival. We lack an autograph manuscript for the Oboe Concerto in G minor but it survives from a 1740 collection printed by John Walsh in London. Handel seems to have revised the work for publication, something that he did not always do. La Ricordanza successfully perform the work in a chamber version with single strings that makes charmingly convincing chamber music. It brings to mind a picture of Handel’s supporters recreating music from his concerts in their own homes by playing such pieces. The other pieces, the trio sonata in F major for violin, oboe and basso continuo is of more dubious parentage. An oboist in the Haymarket Theatre orchestra in 1745/25 owned a set of trio sonatas that included this piece. On being shown it, Handel commented that it was a youthful work and that he ‘wrote like the devil back then, and mostly for the oboe, my favourite instrument’. So it may be one of the rare surviving works from Handel’s Halle period, or it may not. Still it is an attractive and effective piece and deserves to be heard, especially in a performance as ingratiating as this.
Francesco Barsanti was a colleague of Geminiani; they both travelled to England in 1714 to seek their fortune with the Italian opera. Barsanti emigrated to Edinburgh, married a local girl and went native, integrating himself fully into Scots musical life. In 1742 he published his collection of thirty ‘Old Scots Tunes’. La Ricordanza have recorded four of them, ‘Lochaber’, ‘Where Helen Lies’, ‘Clout the Cauldron’ and ‘Corn Riggs are Bonny’. The arrangements are charming and effective; the selection starts with a wonderfully plangent flute solo before Barsanti goes on to add accompaniment. His versions never overwhelm the melodic charm of the songs.
Johann Christian Bach was enticed away from an uneventful career as organist at Milan Cathedral by the prospect of commercial success writing operas for the King’s Theatre in London. He moved to London in 1762, initially for a year but in fact he stayed until his death in 1782. His six quintets op. 11 were dedicated to the Elector Palatine, in Mannheim, who was a famous connoisseur of music. They were performed by the Queen’s Band under Bach’s direction. The Quintet has an easy grace and the obbligato keyboard part is typical of Bach’s writing.
Carl Friedrich Abel fled Germany as a result of war. Abel was employed in the court orchestra in Dresden at the time it was invaded by Frederick the Great’s troops. Once in London, he joined the fashionable circles around Queen Charlotte - herself German speaking of course. Together with Johann Christian Bach he produced an annual concert series which ran for 26 years; each concert series being of ten to fifteen concerts. It is via these concert series that many foreign musicians were introduced to London. This Flute concerto in E minor may well have been played at one of these concerts.
La Ricordanza’s performances are enchanting; they make the best possible case for this music. There is a very real chamber feel about these performances, involving the give and take of friends or well known colleagues, something which helps us recapture the spirit of the original pieces. They play crisply and cleanly with a good sense of line and a nice feel for the articulation. More than that, you feel that they are enjoying themselves.
Even with the disc’s catchy title, this repertoire can seem a little forbidding. But don’t let that put you off. Buy the disc and be caught up in the spell of these performances.
Robert Hugill

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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