Sunday, 5 March 2017

British Flute Music: in the Early 19th Century

Enthusiasts of late 18th/early 19th century organ music will have come across Matthew Camidge’s Organ Concerto in G minor as well as several smaller pieces in various albums of ‘Old English Organ Music.’ They will also know that he was member of a familial dynasty that oversaw music at York Minister for 103 years (1756-1859).  Matthew Camidge wrote many sonatas for piano with violin and cello accompaniments, church music, songs and teaching material. The Flute Sonata dates from about 1813. Camidge’s style is rooted in an earlier period. He does not seem to have been influenced by Beethoven, despite seven of that composer’s nine symphonies having been performed at this date. This music is more likely to remind the listener of J.C. Bach with Corelli and Handel not far in the background. I enjoyed the freshness and innocence of this charming three-movement sonata.

Two short Sonatinas by Thomas Attwood Walmisley are included.  Howell points out that the works’ titles are misleading. What is presented here are in effect ‘operatic scenas’ which both open with a slow introduction before exploring more rigorous formal characteristics. Each is composed in a single movement, ‘that combines sonata and rondo form in a manner both intuitive and highly effective.’ I guess that Weber is the underlying source of inspiration for these two beautiful short pieces. They demand to be better known by flautists (and oboists, for whom the ‘sonatinas’ were originally composed)

Where Edward Loder (1809-65) is recalled today, it is for his operas. Most recently Retrospect Opera has announced that a recording of his opera Raymond and Agnes will be made during 2017.  Recent years have seen a CD of his piano music, the Overture: Night Dancers and several songs. In 2016 Boydell and Brewer published Musicians of Bath and Beyond: Edward Loder (1809-1865) and his Family which is a symposium edited by Nicholas Temperley.
Edward Loder received his musical education from Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) in Frankfurt. He went on to be conductor of the Princess’s Theatre in London before moving to Manchester to become the musical director of the Theatre Royal.

The present ‘Original Theme with variations’ was composed around 1830 and dedicated to Frederick Gye, Junior. The opening theme could have been composed by Haydn. Loder conventionally makes the following four variations more and more complex but also deploys piano solo passages at the end of each variation that are not directly related to the theme. The liner notes suggest that this may be unique. The fifth variation has an operatic feel to it: the soloist ‘breathes’ a long and thoughtful cantilena. The work concludes with a Polonaise and a ‘brilliant’ coda.  Altogether a remarkable work, that leads the listener to want to explore Loder’s six String Quartets and Flute Sonata.

The music of Chares Edward Horsley is surely ripe for rediscovery. His works list includes a symphony, a piano concerto, two concert overtures, piano music and songs. This is over and above the usual run of oratorios so popular with Victorian composers. His credentials were good too: study with Moscheles and Mendelssohn gave him technical prowess as well as a developed imagination.
This four-movement sonata, composed in 1846, is the longest work on this CD running to more than half an hour.  It is a romantic piece that explores many moods and temperaments.  A few musical signposts are useful: they do not suggest pastiche or parody or lack of Horsley’s imagination.  The Romanza may nod to John Field’s Nocturnes, whilst the Scherzo has something of Arthur Sullivan’s lightness of touch – ‘Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither.’
I have a theory: if the listener was told that this present Flute Sonata was a ‘lost’ work by Mendelssohn, they would not stare in disbelief. Yet, because it was written by a Victorian British composer it is condemned in many minds as worthless before a note is heard. Howell is correct when he suggests that this work ought to be the ‘flautist’s standard sonata from the earlier romantic age…’

Anyone of a certain age who has sung in a church or chapel choir will have performed John Henry Maunder’s Olivet to Calvary. At one time, this work was nearly as popular as John Stainer’s Crucifixion. Chelsea-born Maunder also composed a few comic operettas, church service music and part-songs. Pleasant as ‘Espagnola’ may be, it seems to me that Spain has very little to do with it: there is no Spanish colouring and certainly no touch of tango or flamenco. He seems to have set his topographical sights no further south than Bognor Regis. It is a well-written piece that reminds listeners that there was more to Maunder than his Olivet. No date is given for this piece, but it was probably composed in the late nineteenth century. Christopher Howell has written that this number falls outside the remit of ‘early’ 19th century flute music, but that it was deemed a successful encore for recitals: it admirably fulfils this role here.

This is a delightful CD. The sound is clear: every note is heard as intended. The liner notes by Christopher Howell, as usual, are definitive.

Both soloists, Gilberto Fornito (flute) and Christopher Howell (piano) approach these pieces with conviction, technical prowess and enthusiasm. Each work proves that the critic who declared that Britain was a ‘land without music’ before Parry penned his Prometheus Unbound (1880) or Elgar knocked out his Enigma Variations (1899) is manifestly wrong. These pieces for flute and piano may not be ‘masterpieces’ in the accepted sense of the word, however each one is an important and worthy contribution to the flautist’s repertoire. And, occasionally, the music rises to the heights of the sublime: the ‘Romanza’ from Horsley’s Sonata being a case in point.

Track Listing:
Matthew CAMIDGE (1764-1844) Sonata in B flat major, op.8 (c.1813)
Thomas Attwood WALMISLEY (1814-56) Sonatina No.1 in B flat major, Sonatina No.2 in G major
Edward LODER (1809-65) Original Theme with variations (c.1830)
Charles Edward HORSLEY (1822-76) Sonata in A minor, op.11
John Henry MAUNDER (1858-1920) Espagnola
Gilberto Fornito (flute) Christopher Howell (piano) 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

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