The London Flute
A neat programme, this. Like a football tournament, ‘The London Flute’ sees an old rivalry – French music versus Italian – played out on neutral ground, with the locals contributing a little colour of their own. Per Flauto have chosen as their arena London in the first quarter of the 18th century, a scene well populated with immigrant musicians and supported by a growing music publishing industry. They haven’t cheated either: all the pieces are real rather than modern arrangements, and the only one not from an English source is the recorder version of a Corelli violin sonata, though that composer’s enormous popularity in England more than qualifies it for inclusion.
Indeed, what makes this selection interesting is the way greats such as Corelli and Handel are interleaved with lesser-known figures such as the thoroughly modern Italian Francesco Mancini and the Frenchmen Jacques ‘James’ Paisible and Charles Dieupart (the former a considerable recorder virtuoso, as his ‘Sonatta Flutto Solo’ shows, the latter a harpsichordist who left his mark on Bach’s English Suites), and then with almost complete unknowns like Robert Carr (composer of a rather touching set of divisions) and Andrew Parcham, whose ‘Solo’ is almost bizarrely free-form.
Using four differently sized recorders, Bart Coen is a notably accomplished performer whose clean articulation, rounded tone and easily flowing line make him as easy on the ear as any recorder player going, especially in this recording’s spacious acoustic. He is an intelligent interpreter too, and if his playing has neither the muscular extroversion of a Maurice Steger nor the firecracker spontaneity of a Pamela Thorby, it is no less valid and certainly serves this particular music well. He is well supported by his two colleagues – violist Nicholas Milne and harpsichord player Herman Stinders – though I sometimes found the keyboard continuo a touch stodgy, and wasn’t convinced that Handel’s G minor Violin Sonata has a welcome home on the gamba.