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The Taste of This Nation William CORBETT (1680-1748)
Al'Inglese [8:31] Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667-1752)
Kindly fate at length release me [11:25] Obadiah SHUTTLEWORTH (c1675-1734)
Concerto grosso No. 1 in D (after Corelli) [10:16] Johann Christoph PEPUSCH
The Spring [7:14] Obadiah SHUTTLEWORTH
Concerto grosso No. 11 in E (after Corelli) [7:04] Johann Christoph PEPUSCH
Chloe [7:04] William CORBETT
Sonata for trumpet, oboe and bc in C, op. 1,12 [6:46] Johann Christoph PEPUSCH
While pale Britannia pensive sate [8:22] William CORBETT
Alla Bolognese [7:36]
Ciara Hendrick (mezzo-soprano)
rec. 2020, All Hallow's, Gospel Oak, London
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere DELPHIAN RECORDS DCD34236 [74:26]
If you like to expand your musical horizon and to hear completely unknown stuff, this is your disc. You may have heard the names of Pepusch and Corbett, but there is a good chance that you have never heard any of their music. And what about Mr. Shuttleworth? In more than 35 years of reviewing, his name has never crossed my path.
The programme brings us to the England of the first decades of the 18th century. It was the time that its music-lovers were under the spell of Italian music. The publication of collections of music by Arcangelo Corelli had resulted in a real Corellimania. His Sonatas for violin Op. 5 were played everywhere, both in their original scoring and in all sorts of arrangements. It created a musical atmosphere, in which the Italian style in general was embraced. England became the place to be for performing musicians and composers from Italy who were looking for a living. During the first half of the 18th century many composers from Italy, but also from other parts of the continent, such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, settled in England. Not only was there a large business of musical amateurs, but especially London was a centre of professional music making, for instance in the theatres, which had their own orchestras.
One of the key figures at the music scene was Johann Christoph Pepusch, known in England as John Christopher. He was born in Berlin and was employed at the Prussian court in Dresden from age 14. Little is known for sure about his musical education, but as later in England he directed performances from the harpsichord it is likely that he was educated as a keyboard player, probably by an organist from Saxony. There are conflicting reports about the time he arrived in England. According to Charles Burney it was "soon after the  revolution", others mention 1697. His activities after the turn of the century are well documented. He frequented the public concerts which were organised by the coal merchant Thomas Britton. Many compositions by English composers, but also by Italians and Germans, were performed during these concerts. Not only Pepusch took part in the performances, but also the likes of Handel, Banister and Dubourg.
Pepusch left quite a large oeuvre. He contributed to nearly every genre in vogue in his time: concerti grossi, solo and trio sonatas, sacred music, odes and music for the theatre. This disc sheds light on one particular genre: the secular cantata. This was modelled after the Italian chamber cantata, whose basic form had been laid down by Alessandro Scarlatti. It usually consisted of two pairs of recitative and aria, scored for solo voice and basso continuo. However, he and composers following in his footsteps, often took the freedom to derive from this model, for instance by omitting one aria, or adding a third recitative-aria pair. In the course of time, melody instruments also made their appearance in such cantatas, such as the recorder or the violin. Pepusch's four cantatas, all recorded here for the first time, demonstrate the freedom composers took. Two are in the usual form of two recitatives and two arias, whereas the other two omit the opening recitative. In his recitatives Pepusch sometimes turns to the form of an arioso. Robert Rawson, in his liner-notes, points out that English music lovers had considerable problems with secco recitatives, and composers were well advised to keep them short. Pepusch undoubedly took that to heart, and inserting an arioso passage was one way to avoid boredom.
Another feature of his cantatas is the addition of an obbligato instrumental part. In Kindly fate at length release me, he adds a trumpet part to the second aria; it opens with a sinfonia in which the trumpet makes its entrance. The addition of such a part suggests that at least some of Pepusch's cantatas were not intended for domestic music making in amateur circles, but rather, for instance, for performance in the theatre. In the case of While pale Britannia pensive sate such a performance is documented. This cantata, which includes an obbligato trumpet part in the second aria, was performed between the two acts of Pepusch's masque Venus and Adonis in 1714. The singer was Margarita de L'Epine, Pepusch's wife, who also sang the role of Adonis in the masque. Chloe is another example of a cantata apparently intended for professional performers, considering the coloratura in the vocal part, and the obbligato part for oboe, an instrument which was not very common in amateur circles. The sonata for oboe and trumpet is a specimen of Pepusch's instrumental oeuvre. It is in a rather unusual order of movements: two slow movements are followed by a pastorale and an allegro.
The popularity of the Italian style not only resulted in an influx of foreign composers writing in that style, but also in English-born composers embracing it, and composing in the Italian manner. One of them was William Corbett, who was educated as a violinist, and as a composer started by contributing music to stage works. He published four sets of sonatas, but has become best known for his collection of 35 concertos which were printed under the title of Le bizarrie universali in 1728. Apparently they were appreciated, as a reprint came from the press that same year, and another was published around 1742. Corbett frequented Italy and was married to an Italian opera singer. His concertos bear the name of several Italian cities, but also refer to other parts of Europe, such as Al'Irlandese, Alla Spagniola and, of course, Al'Inglese. However, they are all firmly written in the Italian style.
The composer who was responsible for the popularity of the Italian style in England, was Corelli. The love for his music remained unbroken during the 18th century. This resulted in many arrangements of his oeuvre, including the sonatas Op. 5. They were printed in arrangements for recorder, but also for a string band, turning them from solo sonatas to concerti grossi. Francesco Geminiani, who claimed to be a pupil of Corelli, published all the sonatas Op. 5 as concerti grossi. Obadiah Shuttleworth selected the sonatas 1 and 11 and published them in his own adaptations as concerti grossi in 1729. He was a violinist and organist, and apparently a very good one. His extant oeuvre is rather small, and it can not surprise that none of his works seems to have been recorded before. It would certainly be interesting to hear some of his original compositions.
This is a highly interesting disc, which sheds light on the lively music scene in early-18th-century England and further documents that the taste of the nation was very much Italian. William Russell, the founder of Spiritato, explains in the booklet that he has always enjoyed searching "'off the map', looking beyond the usual list of composers and exploring the gaps in our knowledge of baroque music". This disc is a perfect example, as all the pieces, with the exception of Pepusch's sonata, are appearing on disc here for the very first time. Some of Corbett's concerti in Le bizarrie universali are available on disc: in 1991 nine of them were recorded by the European Community Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Roy Goodman (Channel Classics). That disc is still available, and if you like the concertos included here, you are advised to look for that one. It would be nice if this interesting collection would be available on disc complete. Pepusch is probably better represented on disc. The masque Venus and Adonis mentioned above was recorded by The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen, directed by Robert Rawson. The same ensemble recorded 'Concertos and Overtures for London'; both discs were released by Ramée. As far as his cantatas are concerned, at least two discs are available: one by Bergen Barokk (BIS, 1998) and one by Felix Rienth and La Tempesta Basel (Enchiriadis, 2008). The present disc offers a substantial increase in this department, and confirms that he was a fine composer for the voice. I am impressed by Ciara Hendrick's performances, who touches the right chords and who has a very pleasant and agile voice. Here and there she could have reduced her vibrato a little further, but overall it didn't really spoil my enjoyment. In the arias with obbligato instrumental parts, there is a lovely interplay between voice and instrument.
The instrumental works receive sparkling performances from Spiritato, an ensemble I had not heard before, but which I will keep an eye on. It cannot be appreciated enough, when performers are willing to explore unknown territory. It may well result in the discovery of music of high quality, as this disc shows. May more of this kind follow.