Giuseppe Sammartini: Sonatas for recorder and basso continuo vol. 1

Andreas Böhlen, Michael Hell, Daniel Rosin, Pietro Prosser

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Notwithstanding his embarrassment of Christian names (including all three wise men!), Giuseppe Francesco Gaspare Melchiorre Baldassare Sammartini is the less celebrated of the two Sammartini brothers – Giovanni Battista being the more familiar. Indeed, as David Lasocki’s excellently comprehensive programme note points out, ‘our’ Sammartini’s works are nowadays practically unperformed apart from a concerto for descant recorder and strings. His bold assertion that nothing else by Sammartini or, indeed, by his contemporaries prepares us for these sonatas, which he describes as ‘staggeringly original’, is powerfully born out by these lovely performances. Sammartini has the gift, limited to very few of his fellow composers such as Purcell, Telemann and Handel, of finding his own very individual melodic and harmonic path through the generally very conventional landscape of Baroque music. It is safe to say in, for example, the Andante of the F major Sinfonia (Track 9) Sammartini simply never goes in the direction you would predict, finding some novel route rather than a cliché. The son of a professional French oboist Alexis Saint-Martin, Giuseppe and his brother Giovanni toured Italy taking up a succession of posts mainly in opera orchestras before Giuseppe progressed to the musical hot-spot of London, where he carved out a career before ending his days in royal employment. As an oboist, he would have been expected to ‘double’ on recorder and flute as required, but the superb understanding of the treble recorder apparent in these sonatas (in effect these pieces are all sonatas, for all some are called concertos and others sinfonias) suggests that he played the instrument as a solo virtuoso and probably also taught it. The performances here are stunning, technically utterly assured, musically sympathetic and the players are clearly aware of the originality of the material they are presenting. Andreas Böhlen’s exquisite playing on three recorders (copies of Steenbergen, Jacob Denner and Stanesby junior originals) is utterly persuasive and is very sympathetically and imaginatively supported by model continuo team of harpsichord, cello and lute. This window on Sammartini’s recorder works, which all survive in a single manuscript in the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma, partly explains the current undeserved obscurity of this music – much of the chamber music of the early Baroque period circulated in manuscript form and amazingly has either remained unpublished until our own times, or are still unpublished. The numbering of the Parma pieces recorded here suggests plenty of scope for at least a volume 2 of these delightful sonatas – we look forward to this with eager anticipation.

D. James Ross

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