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Briefly Noted: London, Circa 1740 (CD of the Month)

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London, circa 1740: Handel's Musicians, La Rêveuse, F. Bolton, B. Perrot

(released on August 18, 2023)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902613 | 68'57"
Gambist Florence Bolton and theorbist Benjamin Perrot, who co-direct the early music ensemble La Rêveuse, continue to survey the lesser-known corners of 18th-century music in England. The concept for the first half of their latest release is to bring together music of Handel with other pieces by the virtuosos who performed under him during his English period.

Flutist Carl Friedrich Wiedemann and oboist (and flutist) Giuseppe Sammartini both became principal players in Handel's orchestra. Both were likely featured in humorous engravings by William Hogarth: Sammartini's notorious bad temper was lampooned in The Enraged Musician. Traverso player Oliver Riehl and soprano recorder player Sébastien Marq contribute remarkable solo playing in concertos by Wiedemann and Sammartini, respectively.

Violinist Pietro Castrucci, whom Handel met when they both worked for the Ruspoli family in Rome, later came to London and became the concertmaster of Handel's opera orchestra. Florence Bolton takes the solo part in a gamba sonata by Castrucci, as well as contributing a wide-ranging booklet essay giving a vivid portrayal of musical taste in the period. Handel is represented by a fine trio sonata, featuring the gorgeous, intertwined violins of Stéphan Dudermel and Ajay Ranganathan. As lagniappe, there is the Hornpipe that Handel wrote for the budding concert series at Vauxhall Gardens, organized by the entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers at one of the summer retreats from London for the nobility. (The Prince of Wales, who used his artistic patronage in his ongoing campaign for popularity against his father, King George II, was a patron and even maintained a Prince's Pavilion there.).

The second half of this pleasing disc goes in a completely different, folk music-influenced direction. Cellist and composer James Oswald, although not directly connected to Handel, was a Scotsman active in London from the 1740s on, later even becoming chamber composer for King George III. Born in Crail, a town in Fife (the region where my own Scottish ancestors lived for a time), he made many arrangements of Scottish folk tunes, beginning with a popular Sonata of Scots Tunes in five movements. The recording also features a selection of melodies from his Caledonian Pocket Companion, an anthology of twelve volumes, rounding out this diverting late-summer delight.

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