Tuesday 15 August 2023

London, ca.1740: Handel's musicians: wonderfully engaged performances from La Rêveuse as they explore works by the musicians of Handel's orchestra

London, ca.1740: Handel's musicians:  Charles Weideman, Giuseppe Sammartini, Pietro Castrucci,  George Frideric Handel, James Oswald; La Rêveuse; Harmonia Mundi
London, ca.1740: Handel's musicians:  Charles Weideman, Giuseppe Sammartini, Pietro Castrucci,  George Frideric Handel, James Oswald; La Rêveuse; Harmonia Mundi

A delightful disc showcasing the music of the composer/instrumentalists who worked with Handel

The ensemble La Rêveuse, directed by Florence Bolton and Benjamin Perrot, has returned to 18th century London for another disc exploring British music of the 18th century.

London, ca.1740: Handel's musicians on Harmonia Mundi features sonatas and concertos from the 1740s with an emphasis on musicians who worked with Handel including Charles Weideman, Giuseppe Sammartini, and Pietro Castrucci, plus the Scottish musician James Oswald.

Since the late 17th century, London had been a magnet for foreign musicians because money was to be made. The capital's lively musical life attracted all manner of Continental musicians and Handel's orchestra featured some of the best known virtuosos. Many were composers in their own right, so we have works from people who knew and worked with Handel. Some of the music on the disc was written for publication, some for private performances whilst others may well have been performed as part of the entertainments at Vauxhall Gardens where the Summer season provided music whilst the opera was closed.

The disc begins with a lovely, galant concerto for German flute (traverso) by Charles Weideman. Born Carl Friedrich Weidemann, he was a flautist and composer who joined Handel's orchestra in 1725. His Concerto VI Op.2 in E minor comes from Six Concertos in Seven Parts published in 1746 by John Walsh (Handel's publisher). Three movements, slow, fast, slow, the work is compact and elegant, redolent of the drawing room with just enough showy material for our soloist.

The group follow this with Handel's Trio Sonata V Op. 2 in G minor from John Walsh's 1733 publication of Handel sonatas. With this sonata we are on more familiar territory, yet the performance never feels hackneyed and I enjoyed the richly textured feel to much of the music and expressive nature of the playing.

Giuseppi Sammartini arrived in London in the 1720s. A talented oboist, flute and recorder player, he was a noted virtuoso and became principal oboe in Handel's orchestra. His Concerto a piu Istromenti per la Fluta in F major is for the recorder, written at a time when the instrument was more of curiosity than anything else, though Handel would use it for particular effects in arias. The recorder concerto certainly brings a smile to the face, and Sébastien Marq is definitely a stylishly deft player. In three movements, fast, slow, fast, the middle one is a charming Siciliano.

With Pietro Castrucci's Sonata for viola da gamba in G minor we reach another instrument that was moving to curiosity status, though it retained a streak of popularity with amateurs and in Carl Friedrich Abel would have one of its last major virtuosos in London after Handel's death. Castrucci met Handel in Rome and Castrucci followed Handel to London in 1715 and he led Handel's orchestra for some twenty years. He eventually moved away from the world of opera and, after a difficult few years, moved to Dublin in 1750 in the hope of finding a better life there. But he failed to establish himself and died in poverty two years later. Known for his irritable character, he was probably the model for William Hogarth’s famous engraving The Enraged Musician.

Certainly the gamba concerto shows the instrument of to fine effect, and Florence Bolton plays with lovely mellow tone. None of the three movements are exactly slow, it moves from an Affetuoso which is certainly not slow, to Allegro and then a perky Giga, but each is full of character.

We move to a different set of influences and visitors with music from James Oswald,  The Caledonian Pocket Companion, first published in London between 1745 to 1765 and A Curious Collection of Scots Tunes, published in 1740 in Edinburgh. It was Oswald who made his name taking Scottish melodies and turning them into polite drawing-room music with fiddle and lute making way for violin and German flute. A Curious Collection of Scots Tunes includes A Sonata of Scots Tunes, a trio sonata with movements based on five Scots tunes. This is real charmer, with La Rêveuse giving us some wonderfully rich instrumental textures, firmly moving these tunes into the drawing room. But it was with The Caledonian Pocket Companion that Oswald made his money and reputation. There is no link to Handel here, but it is a sample of the other influences passing through the drawing room.

This is a delightful and eclectic disc, drawing on a range of influences and composers to give us a suggestion of the musical life in London in the 1740s when musicians in Handel's orchestra could be star names in their own right. The performances from La Rêveuse are anything but polite and academic. Here we have a group of musicians giving us wonderfully engaged performances, full of style and all played with a great chamber music sensitivity.

Charles Weideman (c.1705-1782) - Concerto VI Op. 2 for German Flute (traverso) E minor
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Trio sonata V op. 2 HWV 390 G minor
Giuseppe Sammartini (1695-1750) - Concerto a piu Istromenti per la Fluta GSM 1711 F major
Pietro Castrucci (1679-1752) - Sonata for viola da gamba G minor
James Oswald (1710-1759) - The Caledonian Pocket Companion: Hugar Mu Fean, Sleepy Maggy
James Oswald - A Sonata of Scots Tunes D major
James Oswald - The Caledonian Pocket Companion: The Cameronian's Rant, Up in the Morning Early
George Frideric Handel - Hornpipe Compos'd for the Concert at Vauxhall HWV 356
La Rêveuse - directors Florence Bolton, Benjamin Perrot, (Olivier Riehl, traverso, Sébastien Marq, flûtes à bec, Stéphan Dudermel, violon, Ajay Ranganathan, violon, Sophie Iwamura, alto, Florence Bolton, viole de gambe (basse et pardessus), Carsten Lohff , clavecin, Benjamin Perrot, archiluth, théorbe, guitare et cistre, Benoît Vanden Bemden, contrebasse)
Recorded October 2021, Église protestante allemande, Paris (France)

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