ABEL Flute Concertos: No. 2 in e; No. 5 in C. Sonatas, op. 6: No. 1 in C; No. 3 in e. Trio Sonata in G, op. 3/1. Symphony No. 1 in C, op. 7 • Georgia Browne (fl); Nordic Affect (period instruments) • BRILLIANT 94304 (72:56)
Let us consider the history of Carl Friedrich Abel (1723–87), one of the more inspiring Horatio Alger stories of the German Baroque. He wasRead more born the son of the noted gambist and cellist Christian Friedrich Abel, who himself was a colleague and friend of Sebastian Bach from the time the latter was Kapellmeister in Köthen. The Abel family had long been associated with Bach, and when Carl Friedrich’s sister Sophie Charlotte was born, none other than Sebastian Bach stood as godfather. Abel senior died suddenly in 1737, and Sebastian Bach and his second wife, Anna Magdalena, did not hesitate to adopt the 14-year-old Carl Friedrich and his younger sister, even though there were by now upwards of 10 children in the Bach household, including the toddler Johann Christian, who would later become Abel’s friend and collaborator in London. Carl Friedrich quickly gained proficiency on the cello and gamba (he obviously picked the right foster family), and by 1747 was granted a position in the Dresden court orchestra, playing under the renowned Hasse.
Various external influences, chief among them the Seven Years’ War, combined with Abel’s growing ambitions as a composer to cause him to seek broader horizons, and by 1759 he was established in London, where he networked with a surprisingly large number of noted musicians. The most notable of these was the flutist Johann Baptist Wendling, the dedicatee of Abel’s works for flute, and coincidently also the favorite flutist of Mozart. By 1763 Johann Christian Bach had arrived in London and was sharing a house with Abel. Together they would found the Wednesday Evening Concerts, later renamed the Bach-Abel Concerts, which for nearly two decades was the most talked-about concert series in London and attracted touring virtuosos from all over Europe.
Abel’s music meshes completely with the late 18th-century English galant style familiar from the works of Christian Bach, Thomas Augustine Arne, William Boyce, John Stanley, and others. Openness of texture, easy, uncomplicated harmonies, and lightness of melody are the hallmarks of the English galant; there is little of the Sturm und Drang in evidence, such as you might find in contemporary German and Austrian music. Favored solo instruments were the flute and violin; orchestral scoring in the concertos is mostly strings and basso continuo. Abel was not as adventurous in his orchestral writing as his friend Johann Christian; the latter usually added winds in pairs, including two horns, to his scores.
Nordic Affect is a newly formed period-instrument ensemble based in Iceland; the personnel consists of two violins, viola, cello, violone, theorbo, and harpsichord. Australian flutist Georgia Browne bears the brunt of the work here; she is a thoroughly cultivated, highly capable flutist with a lovely tone. The ensemble work is pert and polished, although I do hear a bit of glare from the violins at times. Nicely recorded and generously filled, this CD is an excellent introduction to the congenial music of Abel.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
This is the third CD by the Icelandic period instrument chamber ensemble Nordic Affect. Their name may strike the casual browser as a typical 21st-century spelling error, but it comes in fact from "the Baroque practice of trying to communicate certain affects (i.e. the conscious subjective aspect of feeling or emotion) and to inspire different emotional states through the composition and performance of music." Georgia Browne describes herself as a "freelance historical flute player", and has several creditable recordings to her name, including a previous collaboration with Nordic Affect.
In this generously-timed recital, Browne and Nordic Affect deliver a historically faithful, poised and altogether very attractive account of Carl Friedrich Abel's delightful chamber music for flute. Abel is better known for his viola da gamba music and perhaps a few of his forty-plus Symphonies - one of which originally ended up mis-published as Mozart Third, K.18 - with a fair amount of it happily served by recordings. But he was also something of a flautist and wrote up to thirty works for the instrument. Those heard here are beautifully crafted, yet relatively straightforward enough to be played by competent amateurs: an indication of the probable market for these works, a typical route to financial reward in the second half of the 18th century - although as it happens, Abel died before their publication.
As a rule, the faster movements in each case are written in the Galant style that was
de rigueur by then, whereas the slow movements sound more 'old-fashioned' in their contrapuntal, almost melancholy Baroque idiom. Every work is defined by an overall mellifluous elegance, typical of early Haydn or the sons of J.S. Bach, that has the capacity to please audiences as much today as it did 250 years ago.
There is no flute in the Symphony in C (which the booklet mistakenly gives as being his op.7 no.1, incidentally), but its inclusion in Nordic Affect's programme is nevertheless very welcome, tempting the listener, as it were, to explore more of Abel's very rewarding corpus of works. The disc is nicely recorded in good quality audio. The English-only booklet notes, supplied by Browne herself, are neat, informative and well written.