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GRAMOPHONE (10/2023)
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Harmonia Mundi

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Reviewer :
Richard Wigmore

‘London circa 1740’ ‘Handel’s Musicians’ Castrucci Viola da gamba Sonata Handel Hornpipe Compos’d for the Concert at Vauxhall, HWV356. Trio Sonata, Op 2 No 5 HWV390 Oswald The Caledonian Pocket Companion – The Cameronian’s Rant; Hugar Mu Fean; Sleepy Maggy; Up in the Morning Early. A Sonata of Scots Tunes G Sammartini Concerto a piu istromenti per la luta Weideman Concerto, Op 2 No 6 La Rêveuse / Florence Bolton viols and Benjamin Perrot theorbo/archlute/gtr Harmonia Mundi (HMM90 2613 • 69’)


La Rêveuse here present an offbeat programme of music that might have been heard amid the Arcadian make-believe of London’s Vauxhall Gardens in Handel’s heyday. Eighteenth-century xenophobes deplored the influx of Italian and German musicians, and what one commentator sneeringly dubbed Handel’s ‘lousy crew of foreign fiddlers’. But London’s musical standards would have plummeted without continental imports such as the anglicised German flautist Charles Weideman, the violinist Pietro Castrucci and the versatile wind player Giuseppe Sammartini, all of whom starred in Handel’s opera orchestras.


All three were proficient composers, too. In an age when so much music was mellifluously generic, it’s hard to detect anything strikingly individual in the concertos and sonata performed here. There are few must-keep tunes or spicy turns of harmony. But in La Rêveuse’s colourful, technically impeccable performances the three works make for thoroughly agreeable listening. Flautist Olivier Riehl frolics with mingled grace and exuberance in Weideman’s Flute Concerto, which stylistically lies somewhere between Handel and the urbane galanterie of Johann Christian Bach. There’s zesty, quick-witted interplay between the one-toa-part strings, here and in Sammartini’s Recorder Concerto, whose capering outer movements enclose a minor-key siciliano replete with bittersweet harmonic clashes.


Charles Burney observed tartly of Castrucci’s music that ‘among many passages of Corelli and Handel there are several of his own’. No matter. Performed by Florence Bolton with rich, vocal eloquence, his Viola da gamba Sonata has a dusky charm, from the songful opening Affectuoso to the faintly doleful final jig.


None of Handel’s colleagues, though, can quite match the master himself for energetic sense of purpose and melodic piquancy. Violinists Stéphan Dudermel and Ajay Ranganathan are a beautifully matched pair in the G minor Trio Sonata, communing and dovetailing soulfully in the slow movements and sparring with athletic brio in the Allegros.


Ornamentation here sounds delightfully apt and spontaneous, while Benjamin Perrot’s continuo – theorbo, archlute and guitar – is invariably enlivening, never overbearing. A sequence of Scottish airs arranged by James Oswald reflects the century’s craze for Celtic ‘wildness’ tamed and civilised for the bourgeois salon. Dudermel morphs into a nifty folk fiddler for the lusty jigs and reels, animated by Perrot’s strumming and plucking, and duets touchingly with Sébastien Marq’s tenor recorder in the gentle ‘Up in the morning early’. An earworm of a Handel Hornpipe rounds off a programme that should be self-recommending to La Rêveuse fans, its attractions enhanced by an entertaining note from Florence Bolton on the music’s social and political background. The first two Georges were an unlovable pair. Bolton nails their shortcomings in a few pithy sentences.

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