Royal Recorder Concertos
13 November 2013
Johan van VeenThis disc is devoted to the music scene in Denmark
and in particular in Copenhagen during the first half of the 18th century. About a century earlier Denmark experienced a kind of 'golden age'. Various prominent musicians and composers from across Europe worked at the Danish court. Among them was John Dowland. During the whole of the 17th century the music scene in Denmark was mostly oriented towards Germany, and several composers participated in musical life or were invited for special occasions, such as Heinrich Schütz. We know of hardly any names of native Danish composers of the time.
The close connection to Germany lasted well into the 18th century. Almost all the music selected for this recording was written by German composers of the late baroque era. The reconstruction of musical life in Denmark in the early 18th century is complicated by a lack of sources. In 1728 and 1795 Copenhagen was hit by large fires, and in 1794 Christiansborg Castle, where the royal music collection was kept, burnt down. The situation was not helped when during the Napoleonic Wars the English bombarded Copenhagen (1807). Much material which could have given information about what was played at court and in bourgeois circles must have been destroyed.
Only one of the composers on the programme worked in Denmark himself. Johann Adolph Scheibe was born in Leipzig and first studied law at Leipzig University. He later turned to music, and applied for various posts as organist, all to no avail. He moved to Hamburg where he established himself as a music critic. He has become best-known for his criticism of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1740 he went to Copenhagen, and here he was appointed Kapellmeister by Frederik IV's successor, Christian VI. He lost his job in 1747 when Christian died and was succeeded by Frederik V who had a special liking for secular music and especially Italian music. This was exactly the kind of music that Scheibe had criticized. He moved to Sønderborg where he founded a music school for children. He also wrote a biography of the playwright Ludvig Holberg and translated his writings into German. This Holberg - who gave his name to Grieg's Holberg Suite - was a close friend of Scheibe's and was also a skilled musician, especially of the recorder. His musical taste was rather conservative and he didn't like modern fashions in music at least as they manifested themselves in the second quarter of the century.
The music on this disc seems to fit that taste. The Graun brothers were prominent figures at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia. The Concerto in C is attributed here to Johann Gottlieb, but Christoph Henzel, who catalogued the oeuvre of the brothers, has ranked this piece among those works which could be by either Johann Gottlieb or Carl Heinrich. Whoever wrote it, it is a rather conservative piece, if the date of 1760 in the track-list is correct. The use of a recorder bears witness to that, because this instrument had gradually fallen out of grace during the second quarter of the century. The violin line is considerably more virtuosic than the recorder part and includes double-stopping.
Scheibe's own Concerto in B flat is a comcerto da camera - without a viola part - in three movements. Bolette Roed adds a quite extended cadenza in the first movement which seems questionable. The music of Christoph Graupner and Georg Philipp Telemann was especially popular at the court in Copenhagen. As Graupner's music was not printed this bears witness to the wide dissemination of his oeuvre across Germany and his stature as one of Germany's main composers. The court culture in Copenhagen was French-orientated. This accounts for the popularity of Graupner's music as he - like his friend Telemann - was a great admirer of French music. The form of the orchestral overture or suite had its roots in the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully and was one of the most popular genres in Germany. The Overture in F is notable for including a solo part for the recorder. In that respect it is comparable to Telemann's famous Overture in a minor, although the recorder part is less prominent than in Telemann's work. Otherwise Graupner's music is hardly comparable to anything which was written in his time. Most remarkable is the second movement, called 'La Speranza', where the recorder plays vivid motifs - reminding a little of birdsong - over quietly forward-moving strings. There is hardly any motivic connection between the recorder and the strings. The Concerto in F is more 'conventional', so to speak, although the second movement is notable for its indication that the strings have to play pizzicato throughout.
The last piece is from a collection of music by Frederik IV's daughter, Charlotte Amalie, an avid player of the guitar. The collection includes twelve suites for the guitar, called Suittes sur la Guittarre de Schickhard. That Schickhardt could be Johann Christian Schickhardt, a German player of woodwind instruments who worked in London for some time in the 1730s. The suites were written down by the princess's guitar teachers Filbiger and Diesel. It seems that these suites are in fact transcriptions of instrumental suites, and that would make the connection to Schickhardt more plausible. In this recording one of the suites is played with recorder, strings and bc. Maciej Prochaska has followed the reverse route, so to speak, and tried to recreate the suites as they might have been written in the first place. In this form it makes an interesting addition to the recorder repertoire. This suite has motivated Bolette Roed to add one movement from a sonata by Schickhardt. The whole sonata can be downloaded from the Dacapo site.
I had heard Bolette Roed only in recorded performances on various radio stations available over the internet. This disc was a most pleasant way to get to know her better. Her style of playing is flexible and relaxed, and she produces a warm yet clear sound. The cooperation with Arte dei Suonatori, known for its engaging performances, is quite successful. With the exception of 'The Princess's Suite' the music on this disc has been recorded before, but even so this disc will be an attractive proposition to all lovers of the recorder.