Notes and Editorial Reviews
High quality musical entertainment from England in the second half of the 18th century.
Until well into the 18th century the recorder remained the most popular instrument in England; longer than anywhere else. Eventually it gave way to the transverse flute, an instrument that had appeared on the European continent some decades earlier. Just as much music for the recorder was composed and published until midway into the 18th century but in the second half a large repertoire for the transverse flute was printed. This disc gives some idea of the kind of music that was written in England.
Two of the composers on the programme lived in England for a considerable part of their life. Carl Friedrich Abel moved
from Dresden to London in 1758/59 and Johann Christian Bach settled there in 1762, coming from Milan. Together they started a concert series in London, the so-called Bach-Abel concerts. In 1767 they met Lord Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon. He was a colourful character, who had been educated in Westminster, Oxford and Geneva, and had just returned from a journey through France and Italy. He acted as patron of the Bach-Abel concerts, and in the 1790s sponsored Haydn's visits to London, after having failed to persuade the composer to come to England about ten years before.
The Earl of Abingdon was an avid player of the transverse flute. While in Rome Grétry wrote a solo concerto for him, and later even wrote some works himself. It seems his friendship with Haydn was an incentive for him to compose. It was the connection with the Earl which made Haydn write the two Trios for two transverse flutes and cello which have been recorded here. Haydn paid tribute to his sponsor with the Trio No. 2, which is a set of variations on the Earl's tune "The Lady's Looking Glass". Haydn reported a meeting with the Earl and his friend the Baron of Aston; the latter was meant to play the second flute part. It is this Baron of Aston to whom Haydn dedicated these two trios at the time of their publication by Monzani in London in 1799.
It seems the Earl of Abingdon was quite a skilled player, as the flute parts are not exactly easy. He also inspired other composers to write music for him. The title of this disc suggests all pieces played here were specifically written for the Earl of Abingdon, but the programme notes don't specify this. In the trio by Carl Friedrich Abel the cello gets a more independent part than in the trios by Haydn. In particular in the first and last movements the three instruments are treated equally, whereas the middle movement is mainly a dialogue between the two flutes.
Johann Christian Bach wrote a series of four quartets: three of this op. 19 are for two flutes, viola and cello, whereas in one of the quartets the viola is replaced by the violin. In these quartets Bach also treats the instruments on equal terms. In the andante of the Quartet in C the viola plays a prominent role, whereas the opening movement of the Quartet in D is dominated by the contrast between the two flutes on the one hand and the strings on the other. In the andante of this quartet the instruments are regrouped: a dialogue of the first flute and the viola is followed by a dialogue between the second flute and the cello.
Just like Haydn Carl Stamitz only visited London: he stayed there in the later 1770s, and also came into contact with the Earl of Abingdon. Like the Trios by Haydn his Trio in G is evidence of the Earl's great skills, as the flute part is quite virtuosic. In the andante Stamitz shows his affiliation with the style of the 'Empfindsamkeit'.
The four musicians on this disc give fine performances. They are playing as a real ensemble, which doesn't surprise as they often play together in ensembles and orchestras. The divertimento-like character of these pieces comes off very well, although sometimes I find the performances a shade too introverted. For instance, more could have been made of the so-called 'Mannheim rocket' – an ascending figure of short notes – which appears in the first movement of Carl Friedrich Abel's Trio. The programme has been well recorded, but in the Trios of Haydn I would have preferred more spatial separation between the flutes, which would have made the dialogues between them more clearly audible.
This is a most enjoyable disc which gives an interesting picture of an important aspect of music life in England in the second half of the 18th century. High quality musical entertainment.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
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