Thursday 26 April 2018

'Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra

Olwen Foulkes - Directed by Handel - Barn Cottage Records
Handel, Corelli, Sammartini, Geminiani, Castrucci, Blow, Smith; Olwen Foulkes, Nathaniel Mander, Carina Drury, Toby Carr, Tabea Debus; Barn Cottage Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Music by musicians in Handel's orchestra explored in this engaging disc

This disc from recorder player Olwen Foulkes, Carina Drury (cello), Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord), Tabea Debus (bass recorder) and Toby Carr (theorbo) explores the liveliness of the musical world surrounding the musicians in Handel's orchestra, seen through the parallel filter of music for recorder, much of which was published (often in arrangements, and not always with the composer's permission) by John Walsh. So on this disc from Barn Cottage Records we have music by Handel himself (both the Sonata in F and a suite arranged by Olwen Foulkes), Pietro Castrucci, Giuseppe Sammartini, Francesco Geminiani, John Blow, and John Christopher Smith.

The title of the disc Directed by Handel is something of a misnomer, very little of the music on the disc would have been directed by Handel, that is the point. But the subtitle captures it exactly, 'Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra'. Not Handel's theatre music, but music from the members of the orchestra, many of whom were distinguished musicians in their own right.

Central to this enterprise is the publisher, John Walsh. In fact there were two John Walshs, father ( 1666-1736) and son (1709-1766). The firm published a lot of music, on a scale hitherto unknown in England, and in the early days did so based on the almost non-existent copyright laws so that composers were rarely involved, and Walsh senior would also copy (pirate) foreign edition. The firm's early printings of Handel were all done in this manner, but they eventually developed a strong relationship with the composer who came to realise the potential for having an outlet for his music which he controlled and they published Handel's sonatas, organ concertos, trio sonatas and concerti grossi. So on this disc, Walsh is involved in the Corellis sonata, the Handel sonata, and the Castrucci Ciaconna.

Walsh was interested in the amateur market, those who played at home, and so the use of the recorder was key as this instrument was one of those which was enthusiastically taken up by amateurs.

The disc opens with Arcangelo Corelli's Sonata in C Major, Op.5 No. 10, originally a violin sonata; Corelli was an important model for early 18th century composers in London. Handel's Concerti Grossi Opus 6 were explicitly modelled on Corelli's Opus 6, and the solo sonatas were similarly important, and this performance is based on an edition issued by John Walsh in 1702.

Next comes a Sonata in G minor by the oboist Giuseppe Sammartini who was regarded as one of the greatest oboists in his day and who settled in London and played in Handel's orchestra at the King's Theatre. We follow this with a solo sonata by Handel himself, the Sonata in F marjo Opus 1, No. 11, printed by John Walsh in 1733 (purportedly based on an early edition printed in Amsterdam which is now believed to be a forgery by Walsh). Handel almost certainly did not have any editorial input into this, but it was part of the process whereby he developed a relationship with the Walshes.

The Italian composer Francesco Geminiani was another of the Italian musicians attracted to London, where the burgeoning commercial music scene offered many opportunities for making a decent income. He played his own music to George I, with Handel at the keyboard, and in 1751 published an important treatise on violin playing. Here we hear his Sonata in F major H107, originally for cello.

Pietro Castrucci was a distinguished violinist who had studied with Corelli. He became the leader of Handel's theatre orchestra by 1718 and remained so until 1737. Olwen Foulkes plays his Sonata in A major Opus 1 No.6, from an edition printed by Jeanne Roger in Amsterdam in 1718 and the Ciaconna from Castrucci's Opus 2, both works being originally for violin. An example of the earlier generation is the Mortlake Ground by John Blow.

Foulkes has created her own suite of Handel's music, taking pieces from the Allegro for solo violin HWV407 and Il pastor fido. John Christopher Smith was part of a dynasty which provided Handel with important support. Smith's father had become Handel's secretary and amanuensis and Smith himself would take over the position, and inherit Handel's manuscripts on his death. Here we have an Air taken from Smith's Suites de Pieces for le Clavicin, Op.1 No.6 which was 'Printed and sold by the author' in 1732. And we end with another piece printed by Walsh, taken from The division flute published in 1706.

Much research has gone into this disc, and Foulkes is to be congratulated for managing to combining this with such fine playing that the disc is far more than an academic exercise. The pieces are all lively and engaging, with Foulkes being supported superbly by her continuo group, so much so that this becomes real chamber music in the later sense of the word. This is surely only the tip of the iceberg, and we must be grateful to Foulkes for revealing what a hot-bed of activity Handel's orchestra was and creating such an engaging disc.

Tabea Debus, Nathaniel Mander & Olwen Foulkes at recording sessions
Tabea Debus, Nathaniel Mander & Olwen Foulkes at recording sessions
For those interested in exploring further, Foulkes will be talking about her research and performing at the Handel House (Handel & Hendrix) on 19 May 2018, where she was a Handel House Talent artist in 2015 (further details from Handel & Hendrix website)

Arcangelo Corelli (1652-1713) - Sonata in C marjo, Op.5 No.10
Giuseppe Sammartini (1695-1750) - Sonata in G minor Op.13 No.5
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Sonata in F major Op. 1 No.11 HWV369
Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) - Sonata in F major, H107
Pietro Castrucci (1679-1752) - Sonata in A marjo Op.1 No. 6
Pietro Castrucci - Ciaccona Op.2
John Blow (1749-1708) - Morlake Ground
George Frideric Handel - Suite based on HWV407 and Il pastor fido
John Christopher SMith (1712-1795) - Air
Anon - A  division on a ground
Recorded in April 2017 at St Michae's Church, Highgate
Available from Amazon.

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  • Bernstein, Debussy, Parry, Smyth, Bridge, Boulanger, Owen - BBC Proms 2018 - preview
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  • Returning home: Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen at Oper Leipzig (★★★★)  - Opera review
  • Sacred and Profane: The Sixteen's 2018 Choral Pilgrimage opens at St Albans Cathedral (★★★★)  - concert review
  • Light Divine: a final glimpse of treble Aksel Rykkvin (★★★½) - CD review
  • David Hare's The Moderate Soprano at the Duke of York's Theatre (★★★★)  - theatre review
  • Handel's Teseo at the London Handel Festival (★★★★) - opera review
  • Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto from Early Opera Company at London Handel Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Home

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this - I've been listening to this wonderful album quite a bit on Spotify, and I'm pleased to find this additional information about the album - in particular to learn which track is by which composer!


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