The concept of a Swiss composer of the 18th century is not one that immediately leaps to mind. In the historical scheme of things, the various cantons of this land, not yet united into the quadralingual nation we know today, seems on the periphery of mainstream musical trends of the period, and one wouldRead more be hard-pressed to discover that an active musical life could be found in places such as Zürich and Lucerne. The names of composers such as Constatin Reindl and Nicholas Scherrer have all but disappeared from history, but there is a ray of light that has appeared in recent years. This comes in the form of Genevan composer Gaspard Fritz (1716–83), who was not only praised by Handel and Locatelli, but also by no less than Charles Burney, who noted that in a town that was almost devoid of music, Fritz and a group of expat Englishmen formed the Common Room of Geneva. Fritz even conducted the orchestra there, and audience members included Voltaire. Fritz was trained in Turin as a violinist and when he toured infrequently he was praised for his technical ability, although there were concerns expressed about his rather free interpretation of rhythm. In 1756 his works began to be performed at the Concerts Spirituels in Paris, a step that was de rigeur for composers seeking international fame.
This set of flute sonatas was published as Fritz’s op. 2 in 1748, probably in Geneva, and dedicated to the later Duke Friedrich III of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg—like many nobility of the period, an avid flute player. Originally, these works specified either violin or flute, but the parts are so idiomatic for the latter that it would be difficult to achieve the same results with a stringed instrument. All six of these works are fairly eclectic, demonstrating that Fritz was halfway between the Baroque and early Classical galant styles. This also indicates that he may have composed these at separate times, only putting them together as a set for publication. The opening sonata in C Major is clearly the most advanced of the set, with a vivacious first movement in something that resembles sonata form with contrasting themes and duple-triplet solo lines. The lilting dance rhythms of the second-movement Siciliano remind one of Franz Xaver Richter, who often used these stylized dances in his inner movements. The least advanced is the A-Major third sonata, which follows the four-movement Baroque format of two pairs of slow-fast movements. It is the shortest of the set, with two very stately, almost Spanish-sounding slow movements, followed by highly florid Prestos (OK, the first is a Vivace) that evoke the world of Telemann. In the fourth sonata, one admired by Locatelli, the third-movement Gratioso is Handelian in the spinning-out of motivic units in Baroque fashion, building lines from sequenced musical fragments. Both the last two sonatas have final movements that are minuets, perhaps more deliberate than one might expect, indicating that Fritz was already thinking of a more stylized form of the dance. In several instances, he offers a continuo introduction to the last movement. In the aria movement of the second sonata in D Major, this expands lyrically into a delightful paraphrase of a vocal operatic work, allowing the sonata to move into a more pensive direction than the usual finale.
All three of the performers come from the famed Schola Cantorum in Basel, which is known for turning out musicians whose musicality and expertise in performance practice are exemplary. Claire Genewein gives a clear and precise performance on her transverse flute, while harpsichordist Nicoleta Paraschivescu is an equal partner in all aspects, never allowing the continuo to become subordinate. Maya Amrein’s cello is unobtrusive, supporting without dominating, making this one of the best trios I’ve heard recently. The ornamentation, mostly improvised, is done following French models of composers such as Leclair, and always seems appropriate for the works and never overbearing. The Fritz sonatas have been recorded before, in 1995 on the Jecklin label with violinst Susanne Baltensperger and harpsichordist Anna-Katherina Graf. Were it not for the fact that this seems to be out of print, one could make a comparison of both the pieces and the performances, but there is no doubt that the flute version would win by a mile. My only peeve is that Fritz’s first name is listed as “Gasparo,” which was no doubt taken from the title page of the printed edition of the sonatas (and of course is Italian), but mostly we refer to him as Gaspard or Kaspar, both of which forms he evidently used. If you are a lover of offbeat chamber music of the 18th-century galant period, you will want to have this in your collection.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Gasparo Fritz is one of the many composers from the mid-18th century whose name and works have disappeared under the dust of history. He was a respected musician, though, who once performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris, and whose music was appreciated by Handel and Charles Burney. His Christian name Gasparo is the Italian form of his original name, Kaspar. His father, Philipp, was from Celle in Germany and had settled in Geneva as a music teacher. According to Charles Burney he was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Somis in Turin, but in 1736 he was back in Geneva where he stayed the rest of his life. He seems to have moved in aristocratic circles as the dedications of his various publications indicate. He acted as director of musical performances by English residents of Geneva and also as a teacher, apparently to great acclaim.
Charles Burney praised him for his expressive powers and Handel judged his sonatas opus 1 positively, but his playing didn't meet with universal approval. His concerts in France were not really successful as a result of his Italian style of playing, and when an amateur violinist from Basle heard him play, he found his ornamentation excessive. He stated that Fritz sometimes lost his rhythm and accused him of lack of musical taste.
Fritz's compositions are various in character and technical requirement. The sonatas opus 2 and even more so the sonatas opus 3 require considerable technical skills, whereas the trios opus 4 are far less demanding. The fact that the Sonatas opus 2 are set for either violin or transverse flute reflects the growing popularity of the flute at the time, especially among amateurs. Five of the six sonatas are in three movements - only Sonata III has four - and four follow the modern fashion of beginning with a slow movement. That is to say: three of those four opening movements are andantes, which are not meant to be really slow. Four sonatas end with variations on a chaconne bass.
In the programme notes Nicola Schneider writes: "The fourth sonata is very impressive, which in the first movement shows thematic echoes of the sonata in B minor for flute and harpsichord BWV 1030 by Johann Sebastian Bach". Surprisingly she doesn't mention the second movement of the Sonata I which begins with the same motif as the siciliana of Bach's Sonata in E flat (BWV 1031).
The style of the sonatas can be described as galant which was one of the main fashions in music at the time. But, as already indicated, this doesn't mean these sonatas are easy. One of the aspects which demands great skill is the ornamentation. Claire Genewein adds extensive cadenzas at the end of some movements. This seems to be in line with Fritz's intentions: the adagio of the Sonata II contains a long cadenza written out by Fritz himself. There is a considerable amount of improvisation in these performances - the cadenzas are good examples of that. It is also part of the realisation of the basso continuo. Sometimes I feel the almost concertante style of playing the bass part is at the expense of the rhythmic support of the flautist.
It isn't always easy here to distinguish between what exactly Fritz wrote down or indicated and what is the result of the performers' decisions. One example is that some passages - in particular the last movements of the Sonatas II and IV - are played by the cello and the harpsichord without the flute. But I haven't heard anything which crosses the line of what is stylistically conceivable.
I have really enjoyed listening to this disc. Fritz's various musical ideas and melodic invention have resulted in a set of entertaining sonatas. With their creative and imaginative performances the three artists serve them well. This disc is a fine addition to the catalogue, and has made me curious about the rest of Fritz's oeuvre.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Sonatas (6) for Violin or Flute and Basso Continuo, Op. 2by Gasparo Fritz