Friday 15 September 2023

A glimpse into the lively musical life of 18th-century Dublin: Smock Alley from Carina Drury's ensemble Irlandiani

Smock Alley - Irlandiani - First Hand Records
Smock Alley: Tommaso Giordani, Thomas Roseingrave, Domenico  Scarlatti and Geminiani; Irlandiani - Carina Drury, Poppy Walshaw, John-Henry Baker, Nathaniel Mander, Eimear McGeown; First Hand Records

Centring on a group of cello duos by an 18th century Italian composer based in Dublin, this disc engagingly explores the life of Irish and Italian musicians of the period in the city

Tommaso Giordani (1730-1806) was a composer born in Naples to a musical family. Though trained in Naples, his father and family travelled in Europe, ending in London in the 1750s. In 1764, he accepted an invitation to act as musical director of the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, where he stayed for the next three years, performing comic operas and co-producing the first ever opera seria to be performed in Ireland, L'eroe cinese (1766). In 1767 he returned to London but was back in Dublin in 1783, taking part in the lively musical life there until his death.

Amongst Giordani's works are his Six Duos for Two Cellos, Op. 18, which were written in London in 1780. And these form the centrepiece of Smock Alley, a disc on the First Hand Records label from Irlandiani - Carina Drury and Poppy Walshaw, baroque cellos, John-Henry Baker, violone, Nathaniel Mander, harpsichord, and Eimear McGeown, Irish flute.

This is the second disc from cellist Carina Drury focusing on 18th century Ireland and the exploration of the influence of Irish tunes on Italian composers. The first disc featured works for solo cello [see my record review], whilst the idea behind this new disc is to further capture something of the lively musical life in Dublin in the late 18th century, centring on musicians associated with Smock Alley and in particular the set of cello duos from Giordani, alongside music by Thomas Roseingrave, Domenico  Scarlatti and Geminiani and traditional Irish tunes collected and published by musicians in 18th-century Dublin.

The 17th century Theatre Royal, Dublin was opened in Smock Alley in 1662, and the theatre would have a rather complex history, throughout the 18th century. There is currently a modern theatre on the site, based in a 19th century church building which itself incorporates structural material from the 18th century theatre!

Giordani's six duos are charming and imaginative works. They are performed here by just two cellos, no harpsichord continuo, and Giordani brings a lively and engaging approach to writing for the two instruments. The two cellists play with great style, but they also sound as if they are having fun. Each duo is presented as a sonata in two contrasting movements, a slower one followed by a fast, often dance-based one. We also here his tiny but lively Prelude for Keyboard in A major, played by Nathaniel Mander.

Another interesting connection is Thomas Roseingrave, an organist who grew up in Dublin and for whom St Patrick's Cathedral provided funding for him to study in Venice. There he met Domenico Scarlatti and Roseingrave's edition of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas helped establish the music in England. Here, we hear Nathaniel Mander in Roseingrave's rather striking and elegant Introduction to Scarlatti's Lessons, along with two of Scarlatti's sonatas, the rather perky K13 and the rather slower and more strikingly chromatic K 30. Sadly, Roseingrave's later years were plagued by mental illness, though his opera Phaedra and Hippolitus did receive a single performance at the Smock Alley Theatre.

The composer Francesco Geminiani is known for his English connections, he would play with Handel and his pupils included Charles Avison, but Geminiani also spent periods in Dublin, in the 1730s and again from 1758 until his death in 1762. His Cello Sonata in A major Op. 5, No. 1 dates from 1746 though Geminiani was clearly proud enough of it to republish the final movement in a later collection of his music adapted for harpsichord. In four movements, we again get slow-fast pairs. A rhetorical first movement leading to a robust dance, then plangent singing movement followed by another perky Allegro. Geminiani was a fine violinist, and his writing for the cello is full of felicitous detail.

Whilst these pieces form the meat of the disc, the connective tissue is in the traditional tunes that were published around the same time. The disc opens with Gallaway's Lament in an arrangement for two cellos by Carina Drury. A haunting piece, it comes from A collection of the most celebrated Irish tunes, printed in 1724, it is the earliest known printed collection of Irish melodies. This is followed by an arrangement for two cellos and violone of a rather striking glee, To sleep by Francis Hutcheson (an amateur composer who wrote as Francis Ireland).

To round off the disc, there is another piece from the 1724 collection, Eileen Aroon, again for two cellos. Then the beautifully haunting Molly St George from 12 Irish and 12 Scotch Airs with Variations which was published in 1748, and from the same collection comes The Rakes of Westmeath which features the lively, folk-inspired flute playing of Eimear McGeown. This tune was also used by Giordani in his Celebrated overture and Irish medley to the Island of the Saints from1782. The disc ends with Carina Drury's Caoineadh, based on another Irish tune.

This is a delightful disc, giving a glimpse into the lively musical life of 18th-century Dublin where the music of Italian and native musicians seemed to intertwine. The centrepiece of the disc is the engagingly elegant playing from cellists Carina Drury and Poppy Walshaw, but all concerned give wonderfully engaged performances and you sense the joy of discovery that the musicians had with this repertoire.

TRADITIONAL - Gallaway’s Lament (from A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes, pub. 1764)
Francis IRELAND (HUTCHESON) (1721–1784) - To Sleep
Tommaso GIORDANI (1730–1806) - Sonata No. 1 in B major [Six Duos for Two Cellos, Op. 18 (pub. c. 1780)]
Tommaso GIORDANI - Sonata No. 2 in F major [Six Duos for Two Cellos, Op. 18 (pub. c. 1780)]
Tommaso GIORDANI - Sonata No. 3 in C major [Six Duos for Two Cellos, Op. 18 (pub. c. 1780)]
Thomas ROSEINGRAVE (1688–1766) - Introduction to Scarlatti’s Lessons
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685–1757) - Keyboard Sonata in G major, K13 (pub. 1738)
Domenico SCARLATTI - Keyboard Sonata in G minor, K30 (pub. 1738)
Tommaso GIORDANI - Sonata No. 4 in G major [Six Duos for Two Cellos, Op. 18 (pub. c. 1780)]
Tommaso GIORDANI - Sonata No. 5 in D major [Six Duos for Two Cellos, Op. 18 (pub. c. 1780)]
Tommaso GIORDANI - Sonata No. 6 in A major [Six Duos for Two Cellos, Op. 18 (pub. c. 1780)]
Tommaso GIORDANI - Prelude for Keyboard in A major, Op. 33, No. 11 (c. 1785)
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687–1762) - Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 5, No. 1 (pub. 1746)
TRADITIONAL - Eileen Aroon (from A New and Complete Tutor for the Violoncello, pub. 1785)
TRADITIONAL - Molly St George (from 12 Irish and 12 Scotch Airs with Variations, pub. 1748)
TRADITIONAL - Rakes of Westmeath (from 12 Irish and 12 Scotch Airs with Variations)
Carina DRURY - Caoineadh (based on the melody from the Irish air Caoineadh na dTrí Muire)

Irlandiani - Carina Drury and Poppy Walshaw, baroque cellos, John-Henry Baker, violone, Nathaniel Mander, harpsichord, Eimear McGeown, Irish flute

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