London circa 1740 - Handel's musicians - La Rêveuse. © 2023 harmonia mundi musique

CD Spotlight

An Enticing Disc

GERALD FENECH is impressed by the music of Handel and his London colleagues

'... some magnificent performances full of insight and warm-hearted feeling, and the music is consistently treated with deep emotional sensitivity.'


Since the late seventeenth century, London had been a most desirable venue for foreign musicians, if not for anything, the English capital was considered a highly attractive place to make good money. London's lively musical life attracted all manner of continental musicians, and Handel's orchestra featured some of the best known virtuosos of the day. Indeed, many of these special musicians were also composers in their own right, so we have people who knew and worked with Handel.

Some of the music on this harmonia mundi album, London circa 1740 - Handel's musicians - La Rêveuse, was written for publication, some for private performances whilst other pieces may well have been performed as part of the entertainments at Vauxhall Gardens.

The disc begins with a gently flowing 'galant' concerto for German flute (traverso) by Charles Weideman (c1705-1782), who was a renowned 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 by John Walsh (Handel's publisher) in 1746. In three movements, slow, fast, slow, the work is elegant and compact, reminiscent of the drawing room with just enough virtuosic material for the soloist's display.

Listen — Charles Weideman: Amoroso (Concerto VI Op 2)
(HMM 902613 track 3, 0:01-1:00) ℗ 2023 harmonia mundi musique :

Handel's Trio Sonata V, Op 2 in G minor follows. Published by Walsh in 1733, this work lends itself to more familiar territory, and yet, the performance is never exaggerated and the richly textured feel plus the animated expressiveness of the playing are a cause for constant enjoyment.

Listen — Handel: Larghetto (Trio Sonata V, Op 2)
(HMM 902613 track 4, 0:01-0:56) ℗ 2023 harmonia mundi musique :

Giuseppe Sammartini (1695-1750) arrived in London in the 1720s. A talented oboist, flute and recorder player, he was a noted virtuoso, and became principal oboist in Handel's orchestra. His Concerto a piu Istromenti per la Fluta in F is for the recorder, written at a time when the instrument was more of a curiosity than anything else. In three movements, fast, slow, fast, this concerto certainly brings a smile to one's face, particularly the middle movement, which is a charming 'Siciliano'.

Listen — Sammartini: [Siciliano] (Concerto a piu Istromenti per la Fluta)
(HMM 902613 track 9, 1:06-1:55) ℗ 2023 harmonia mundi musique :

With Pietro Castrucci's Sonata for 'Viola da Gamba in G minor', we come across another instrument that was soon to become 'un pezzo da museo'. Castrucci (1679-1752) met Handel in Rome, and he followed him to London in 1715, where he soon became the leader of Handel's orchestra, a post he held for the next 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. Failing to establish himself there, he died two years later in abject poverty and with a reputation of irritability. Without doubt this concerto shows the 'gamba' to excellent effect, and with three movements that are not exactly slow, the piece is full of character, especially the concluding section, which is a bouncy 'Giga' full of fun and vigour.

Listen — Castrucci: Giga (Sonata for viola da gamba)
(HMM 902613 track 13, 0:00-0:42) ℗ 2023 harmonia mundi musique :

James Oswald (1710-1769) first published The Caledonian Pocket Companion in London between 1745 and 1765 and A Curious Collection of Scots Tunes in Edinburgh in 1740. 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 ... includes a Sonata of Scots Tunes, a trio sonata with movements based on five Scots tunes that includes music full of charm and grace. Still, it was with the Caledonian Pocket Companion that Oswald made his money and reputation, and although this Trio Sonata has no link to Handel, it is still a sample of the other influences passing through the drawing-room.

Listen — Oswald: Polwart on the Green (A Sonata of Scots Tunes)
(HMM 902613 track 20, 2:38-3:34) ℗ 2023 harmonia mundi musique :

This is an enticing disc that includes a range of influences and composers to give us a hint of London's musical life in the 1740s, when musicians in Handel's orchestra could be star names in their own right. As in previous issues, the 'La Reveuse' ensemble deliver some magnificent performances full of insight and warm-hearted feeling, and the music is consistently treated with deep emotional sensitivity. Even if your interest in the baroque is mostly tepid, I still say, do not think twice to purchase. Sound and presentation are top-notch.

Copyright © 7 September 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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