Awakening Princesses

Dutch recorder player on Bate Collection instruments

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

Awakening Princesses

  • (6) Suittes de clavessin divisées, Cinquième Suite in F
  • Division on a Ground
  • Sonatas for Recorder and Continuo, B flat, HWV377 (Fitzwilliam)
  • Divisions on a Ground
  • Mezena
  • (6) Sonatas for Recorder and Continuo, A minor
  • Sonata XIII
  • A Ground (2)
  • (6) Sonatas, G minor
  • Divisions upon an Italian ground

If the recorder is the favourite instrument of few, then few instruments can convey perky and melancholy quite as vividly. It’s a shame that this delightful disc opens with such a nondescript work, the Fifth ‘Suitte’ in F major by Charles Dieupart (c1670-c1740), one-time maestro al cembalo for Handel’s operas. Its seven gratefully short dance movements sound like some aleatoric assembly of rejected offcuts. In fact the quality of all the music here is of secondary importance to showcasing six of the many precious recorders held in the University of Oxford’s Bate Collection, all of them dating from the early 1700s. As Peter Holtslag observes wryly in his extensive and fascinating booklet, ‘having slumbered in their cases for so long, [these sleeping princesses] were fragile, delicate and temperamental’. Playing some of them ‘felt not unlike tightrope walking’.

Musically we are on firmer ground with Handel’s Sonata in B flat major, a quite entrancing intertwining of a (1710) treble recorder and Baroque cello (Rainer Zipperling). The sonatas by Johann Christian Schickhardt and, particularly, Francesco Barsanti are catchy discoveries for this listener, at least, who is still haunted by the barely audible bass recorder in music by John Banister (1662-1736) and Gottfried (Geofrey) Finger (c1660-1730). But the recorder with the most distinctive tone is the ‘Stanesby tenor 4th flute’ (c1730), ravishingly lovely but so temperamental that it was possible to record only Daniel Purcell’s short Mezena and only then by avoiding the instrument’s lower register. Holtslag wonders if it wasn’t the recorder’s ‘capricious revenge for rousing the princess from her slumbers’: two days after the recording session, it reverted to its former state as a perfectly functioning instrument.

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