Notes and Editorial Reviews
Composers who looked west from the continent of Europe in the 18th century saw in England a land fertile for the sowing of their musical seeds. England was a magnet of sorts, attracting French, Dutch, Italians, Germans, and others by way of its audiences eager to sample the latest styles and innovations. One cannot effectively or accurately document the history of English Baroque music without including the music of immigrant composers.
London was among the most populous and wealthy cities in Europe and composers such as Barthelemon, de Fesch, Sammartini, and Handel braved the unpredictable waters of the English Channel to ply their craft for the aristocracy as well as the newly emerging and moneyed middle class. The frequent
regime changes that took place until the establishment of the Hanoverian line meant that a court appointment in the Scepter’d Isle was far less secure than a corresponding position on the continent. When court ensembles were disbanded or reduced in England, active and lucrative musical enterprises began to rear their heads, presenting the numerous and gifted immigrants many and varied opportunities to be snapped up as freelance musicians. However, since there was no institutional funding, as it were, from the court, the risk of financial failure was the ticket to artistic freedom.
While there must have been an artistic backlash of sorts from England’s musical native sons and daughters, few surviving documents from the era betray any animosity. In fact, performances of the compositions of these outsiders were generally well received by the English concert-going public. The few negative documents that do survive generally deal with the encroachment of Italian opera on the English stage. Musicologists largely view these as attempts to support experiments with English-language opera. Still, one cannot dismiss the possibility and the probability that success by the immigrants raised the ire of more than a single native composer. In his epilogue to The Tender Husband of 1705, Richard Stelle noted, “From Foreign Insult save this English Stage/No more th’Italian squaling tribe admit/in Tongues unknown, ’tis Popery in Wit.” And further on, “Arise for shame, Ye Conqu’ring Britons, rise/Such unadorned Effeminacy despise.” But continental composers had gained a foothold in England long before Steele’s poetic call to arms which gave the CD its title, and this release—spanning the years 1684 to 1774—offers the uninitiated a cross section of the music heard in the concert rooms and homes of the affluent and the middle class throughout the English capital.
The names of several of the composers may not be familiar to some of the readers of Fanfare, but the styles run the gamut from the apex of the Baroque (George Frederick Handel, Francesco Barsanti, Gottfried (aka Godfrey) Finger, and Nicola Matteis) through the emerging galant by way of Carl Friedrich Abel’s Flute Concerto in E Minor to the full-fledged Classicism of Bach’s youngest musical son, Johann Christian. It is a given that the most rewarding works are from the quills of Handel and Christian Bach, with Abel’s flute concerto falling close behind. The remaining works are slight, but pleasant examples of 18th-century English Hausmusik, the kind that one would doubtless have heard in homes of the era. Technical demands vary from the relative simplicity of the music of Barsanti and Matteis to the more intricate and complex examples of Handel, Abel, and his colleague Christian Bach.
La Ricordanza was founded by students at the Royal Dutch Conservatory in The Hague and the Hochschule für Musik in Hanover. Their first release, “The Janus Face of the Empfindsamer Stil,” was released by MDG in 1998. Lacking access to that CD, I cannot comment on their recording debut, but I can state with confidence that this recent offering is exceptional in every regard. The playing is first-class and is buoyed by sprightly tempos, impeccable ensemble, and rock-solid intonation. The gossamer textures sparkle and glow when enhanced by the fabled MDG sound. Add to that a respectable amount of artistic freedom and this MDG release becomes a must-have for those interested in music by émigré composers active from the Baroque and into the Classical era in England.
FANFARE: Michael Carter
Works on This Recording
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