Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wonderful performances of some of Corelli's sonatas in viola da gamba arrangements.
Very few composers have had such a strong influence on the course of music history as Arcangelo Corelli. His trio sonatas and concerti grossi set the standard for the respective genres. Even more influential were the twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo which in 1700 were published as his op. 5. More than 50 reprints of this set are known from the eighteenth century. The sonatas inspired other composers in their own writing of sonatas. The status of a composer can also be measured by the number of arrangements of his works. The best-known arrangements of the op. 5 sonatas are those for recorder which are and have been frequently
performed and recorded in modern times. The arrangements as concerti grossi by Francesco Geminiani are also fairly well-known. Far less known is a set of arrangements for the viola da gamba, from which Friederike Heumann has selected three sonatas for this disc.
This manuscript is held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The adaptations werre intended to address the passages which were not idiomatic for the gamba; harmonious chords were expanded and the basso continuo was transposed down an octave when it came too close to the gamba part. It is not known for sure who made the arrangements. It is suggested that it could have been someone in Johann Schenck’s circle, which is the reason he is also represented on this disc.
Schenck was born in Germany, but moved to Amsterdam with his parents. Here he played an important role in the music scene. He composed operas and chamber music, and especially music for his own instrument, the viola da gamba. No fewer than five collections with music for one or two viole da gamba - mostly with basso continuo, albeit in some cases
ad libitum - were printed between 1688 and 1711. In 1696 he entered the service of the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm II in Düsseldorf. This is also important in regard to Schenck's musical development. The Elector was a strong admirer of Corelli and had commissioned him to compose a
concertino da camera (which is lost). Corelli dedicated his
Concerti grossi op. 8 to the Elector. It is quite possible that he also owned a copy of the
Sonatas op. 5 and that Schenck may have seen them. The fact is that in 1704 Schenck published his
L'Echo du Danube op. 9, a set of six sonatas for viola da gamba with and without basso continuo which show a strong influence of Italian string music. That makes the inclusion of extracts from two sonatas from this set musically significant.
It is also possible that the gamba arrangements have been constructed in France. After all, since the death of Lully who had a stranglehold on the music scene there was a growing interest in Italian music. These adaptations mix the best of two worlds, as it were: the passionate and virtuosic Italian style and the viola da gamba as a symbol of the French taste. It was useful as there were hardly any original compositions for the viola da gamba by Italian masters. Since the late 17th century the gamba had been overshadowed by the cello.
In addition to the compositions by Corelli and Schenck, Friederike Heumann has included the only sonata for the gamba by Handel. He met Corelli when he stayed in Italy, and the two worked together on several occasions. The first performance of Handel's oratorio
La Resurrezione had Corelli acting as concertmaster of the orchestra and complaining about the French character of the overture Handel had originally written. There can be little doubt that he was influenced by Corelli, not only in his concerti grossi but also in his chamber music. In his liner-notes Fred Flassig points out how much the last movement of Handel's gamba sonata is reminiscent of Corelli. That is certainly true: the similarities between this movement and, for instance, the second allegro [track 21] of Corelli's
Sonata VI in G is striking. Why it was written is not quite known. It’s unclear whether it was meant for gamba in the first place as it also appeared for oboe or violin. Handel also knew Schenck as he visited the Elector of Palatine in 1710.
The various pieces on the programme are interspersed with some improvisations which prepare the way for the following sonata. This was a wide-spread practice during the baroque era but is not frequently copied in our own time. The improvisations by Dirk Börner and Eduardo Egüez are stylish and naturally led to the following piece.
I don't need to say much about the performances. They are just wonderful, with great depth and sincerity, but also very theatrical and expressive. The style of performance is quite interesting. Let us assume these arrangements were made by a French gambist. How would he have played them: like an Italian, with fire and passion - just as Friederike Heumann plays them - or with French elegance and restraint? We don't know. I would like to hear them in a more French manner as well. I am very happy with these interpretations which show that Corelli's sonatas can easily survive almost any arrangement. I wouldn't mind if these artists decided to record more sonatas from this set.
The Italian gambist Guido Balestracci has recorded the complete set of arrangements for viola da gamba. This recording was recently reissued by Pan Classics PC 10250.
Those who would like to hear more of Schenck's music for viola da gamba should look for the complete recording of his collection
Le Nymphe du Rheno, op. 8, performed by Les Voix Humaines on two Naxos discs.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWe International
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