NEAPOLITAN FLUTE CONCERTOS • Carlo Ipata, cond and fl; Auser Musici (period instruments) • HYPERION 67784 (58:51)
DE MAJO Flute Concerto in G. RAVA Flute Concerto in b. PROTA Flute Concerto in C. JOMMELLI Flute Concerto in D. PALELLA FluteRead more Concerto in G
Neapolitan Flute Concertos means that this is the sort of compendium of composers of whom very few have ever heard. This in turn bespeaks a trend in digging deeply into the archives to find works that have eluded both performers and audiences for at least two centuries in order both to provide novelty in the repertoire and gather a glimpse into a musical world we always knew was far more complex and colorful than history might tell us. In this case, the focus is upon one of those centers in 18th-century Italy that was famous mainly for its opera production. The Cimarosas, Paisiellos, Pergolesis, Glucks, Handels, etc. could hardly have established themselves internationally without some sort of operatic success in that southern cultural center, and the mammoth legacy of this genre here is only now beginning to be unearthed. But the composers active in this vibrant port city also wrote instrumental music, almost all of which is generally viewed as secondary to the stage.
This disc, however, begins to dispel this notion. It features five flute concertos by local composers, only one of which, Niccolò Jommelli, went on to bigger and better things that gave him a stature that has survived in opera history. Of the others, they had more local but nonetheless significant reputations as professionals. Tommaso Prota (1727–after 1768) was part of a large Neapolitan family of musicians and sought his fortune elsewhere, probably since he was redundant in his home town. After a stint in Malta, he attempted to find fame and fortune in France and England, but he vanishes from history leaving only a handful of works. Even less is known about Gennaro Rava (d. 1779), who spent the last decade of his life as oboist in the Teatro San Carlo and teaching at one of the conservatories. Also at the San Carlo was Antonio Palella (1692–1767), a continuo player whose works were primarily meant for the stage, but who, like Rava, had a solid if uninspired employment record. Gian Francesco de Majo (1732–71), on the other hand, was a social climber, managing to wangle the post of maestro di cappella out of the grasp of competitors such as Porpora, Feo, and Durante. Politics were at play, to be sure, but his reputation as a composer did not suffer from it.
As the flute was a significant instrument for performance in both orchestral and chamber works at most courts, the presentation of this collection is not surprising. All five of the concertos show the distinctive influence of Vivaldi in the leaping unison figures in the opening ritornellos, but the solo writing is far more sedate. Indeed, there is a distinctive tension in the B-Minor Rava concerto’s opening movement that shows a distinct whiff of Sammartini or Brioschi; that is, the progressive Lombard School of Milan. The themes are nicely contrasting; the slow movement is a gem, with a smooth lyrical line that Mozart would have loved. In the Prota concerto, the second movement, in the minor key, is equally mournful and expressive, contrasting and interweaving the flute and violin lines. In the Palella, the opening second movement ritornello is a surprisingly dark-toned duet between the cello and second violin (most of the works employ the standard Neapolitan “church” orchestra of two violins and basso). The final movements are all fast dances, with the flute lines leaping and frolicking around the strings in a nimble manner. All of the five works have small quirks that show a distinctive trend toward the Classical concerto structure, with the Prota the most advanced; the opening movement could have been written by Johann Stamitz. The only odd piece is the Jommelli. One might expect from such a progressive composer more contrast thematically, with use of some interesting harmonies. Instead, we are treated to something that begins with Vivaldi and ends with Sammartini. It is so unlike any other Jommelli piece that one must conclude that it is an early work.
The ensemble, more chamber than orchestra, provides crisp tempos and a good balance. From the notes, one learns that this is yet another of these Italian early-instrument groups that have begun to explore the vast world of their own 17th- and 18th-century traditions, and that the chamber-like setting seems better suited to the original intimate court performances. I am impressed by the way the string timbres blend, a tribute to flutist Carlo Ipata’s sensitive performance practice. Speaking of his solo parts, he integrates himself into the ensemble at the beginning of each work, so that the flute becomes a primus inter pares, not something that sticks out. This allows the listener to appreciate the subtleties of the music itself. It is difficult without being technically cutting-edge, and in turn this is so well integrated into the fabric of the ensemble that one actually experiences what it must have been like at the impromptu concerts at the court of Naples. This disc is recommended for those who collect rarities, who are interested in a more complete understanding of the sound world of the 18th century, and those who want to hear what the courts heard on a regular basis. It is hoped that Auser Musici will continue its quest, this time focusing on the other instruments such as the oboe or bassoon, and the treasures that still remain to be brought to light.
The 'Neapolitan School' is often referred to in encyclopedias and books on the history of music. But this term mainly relates to music for the stage - in particular operas and intermezzi - rather than instrumental music. In this category it is mainly music for strings which is of historical importance, not music for the transverse flute. This disc with flute concertos by Neapolitan composers may therefore come as a surprise. But that makes it all the more interesting.
In his programme notes Stefano Aresi suggests Gennaro Rava was probably the only one of the five composers who had a thorough knowledge of the possibilities of the flute, presumably because he was a flautist himself. Aresi also writes that there is no evidence of virtuoso Neapolitan flautists. Nevertheless these concertos suggest that they were played by performers of considerable skill.
The only generally-known composer on this disc was Niccolò Jommelli. In the main it is his operas that have secured his name in our time. He was an important link in the development from the baroque era to the classical period. Musical innovations which are often attributed to the Mannheim school, like the orchestral crescendo, are in fact of his making. In comparison to the huge number of vocal works in his oeuvre, the number of instrumental works is negligible. The Concerto in D - which New Grove labels as a ‘quartet’ because of its scoring for flute, two violins and bc - is a very fine composition. The largo is an example of impressive lyricism. This concerto was probably not written in Naples.
None of the other names is likely to ring a bell with music-lovers. That doesn't mean these composers were nobodies. Most of them made a good career, although sometimes with the help of influential people. Giuseppe de Majo, for instance, became
primo maestro of the royal chapel, as successor of Leonardo Leo. He was chosen above more famous contenders like Porpora and Durante, thanks to the preference of Queen Maria Amalia. His Flute Concerto in G - the only piece on this disc with a part for viola - may have been written for a performance at the court.
Like De Majo Tommaso Prota and Antonio Palella were educated at one of the four Naples conservatories. Prota was a member of a family of musicians. Very few compositions have come down to us; his stage works are all lost. The Concerto in C is not his only work for flute: his op. 1 is a set of six sonatas for two flutes and bc. Antonio Palella was mainly active in the theatre, and adapted a number of stage works of other composers. New Grove lists one flute concerto; this Concerto No. 2 in G proves that he wrote at least two.
Is this music indispensable? No, it is not. Don't expect music which shakes the world. On the other hand if you ignore this disc, you rob yourself of one hour of good musical entertainment, in infectious performances. The ensemble is immaculate, Carlo Ipata is a brilliant flautist and together they make the most of this repertoire.
The recording is flawless and the booklet - as always with Hyperion - exemplary. There is every reason to welcome this disc. Flute aficionados certainly shouldn't miss it.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International Read less
A Cheerful CDMay 2, 2013By D. Green (Mornington, Victoria)See All My Reviews"Excellent instrumentalism and direction. Listening to this music made me feel happy all day. I rate this as up there with Vivaldi's mandolin music"Report Abuse