Notes and Editorial Reviews
London Handel Players
SOMM 2482 (2 CDs: 119:47)
Regarding Geminiani’s habit of revising his music and reissuing it, Adrian Butterfield remarks in his liner notes to this release, “Reworking musical material of one’s own or another one’s composition was, in any case, practiced by many greater composers, Bach, Handel and Mozart in the first place.” This is true, though Geminiani appears to have taken matters much further than they, relative to the quantity of work
itself. There are two points in his defense. The first is pragmatic: the consumption of published music being as frantic as it was by the 18th century, new music quickly became old and forgotten. A composer did well to keep his name and compositions before the eye of the public. The second is personal. Geminiani was an extremely astute observer of the international musical scene, who adapted to the changing tastes of the times. There is a long developmental path between the Corellian passages and structures in the original edition of his Sonatas, op. 1 (1716), and his Rebel-like ballet,
The Inchanted Forest
(1756). He also adapted many of his works to suit those changes, and nowhere is that more evident, as this recording shows, than in the three editions (and a half; some movements he recast for harpsichord) of those same sonatas.
With each of his three editions (1716, 1739, 1757), Geminiani made some alternations that reflect a change of approach. The 1739 version adds numerous written ornaments (often French in style) as well as providing fingerings, where the 1716 version left much more room for the soloist to embellish on their own. The 1757 version turns the works into trio sonatas by the addition of a second violin. More importantly, in each subsequent edition Geminiani effectively refashioned at least some of the sonatas. The Ninth demonstrates how thoroughly this was achieved between the 1737 and 1757 editions. The deliberate thematic simplicity of the
movement in 1737 is touching, but by 1757 it has nearly doubled its length, with the second violin sometimes providing the melody in thirds, or supplying counterpoint, along with a few fine moments of passing dissonance. What was charming before is now impressive.
This brings up one matter of regret I have about this recording: that the London Handel Players didn’t offer up two editions side-by-side in more than just the Ninth Sonata (if we exclude the Sixth Sonata, and a movement of the Fourth in which one version features Geminiani’s own harpsichord arrangements.) And why are we given two versions of the 10th and one each of the Seventh and 11th by other hands, but not by Geminiani? Granted, the Seventh and 10th allow us to hear transcriptions respectively for treble recorder and flute that demonstrate Rachel Brown’s facility, stylishness, and breath support to excellent advantage. But with almost 20 minutes free on one disc and nearly 15 on the other, surely we could have had all of the originals, and a few in multiple editions of the composer’s that would have illustrated the points Butterfield makes so tellingly based on the Ninth alone.
It is my only musical criticism, though, given the lack of easily available competition on disc, a significant one. Of the performances, I have nothing but praise to offer. Paul Butterfield’s tone is light and mellifluous throughout. His technique is clean and even, notable for its application of discreet accenting around cadences, and its sweetness in legato passages. Vibrato is used properly as an infrequent coloring device on longer notes, and to excellent effect. Oliver Webber balances perfectly with him in the 1757 trio sonata versions (the Second, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth), while Laurence Cummings adds a welcome touch of
to the pieces drawn from Geminiani’s two published collections of harpsichord music in 1743 and 1762. Unlike some other groups, the London Handel Players aren’t inclined to push slow tempos, but strive for internal contrast. In short, these are very fine performances indeed.
The engineering is excellent, with just enough roominess to give a bloom to the instruments without obscuring individual lines. The solo harpsichord cuts should have been recorded at a higher volume level, though. I found it necessary to turn my receiver’s volume up for Cummings, and down again once the ensemble began playing.
With reservations noted, then, strongly recommended. Geminiani has been a personal favorite of mine among Italian Baroque composers ever since I first heard his
The Inchanted Forest
roughly 40 years ago, followed later by the Concerti Grossi, op. 3, and the Sonatas, op. 5. In his music something of the fancy of the Elizabethan consort composers sticks long beyond its time; or perhaps this is because he observed how the English of his day still enjoyed the whimsical touch, through the Scarlatti enthusiasts (Avision, most prominently), not to mention Handel’s own Concerti Grossi. The London Handel Players do him right.
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