BAROQUE MASTERPIECES (Naxos: 8.553221)
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Oboe Concerto in D Minor
Larghetto from "Serse"
Adagio in G Minor
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
Concerto No.8 in G Minor "Christmas Concerto"
Canon & Gigue
The first half of the eighteenth century brought the final flowering of musicin a style that later became known as the Baroque, a term borrowed from arthistory and originally pejorative in its suggestion of roughness andirregularity. The music of Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach and Vivaldi, leadingcomposers of the late Baroque period in Europe, may seem now to be anything butthis.
The present collection includes two composers from what is now generallyknown as the Middle Baroque period, the second half of the seventeenth century.
In Italy Arcangelo Corelli had a position of importance in Rome as a violinistand composer, employed by the blue-stocking exiled Queen Christina of Sweden andby those princes of the Church, the Cardinals Pamphili and Ottoboni, enlightenedpatrons with whom Corelli established a satisfactory relationship. He died inRome early in 1713. His contribution to music was very considerable, with a setof twelve published Concerti grossi which served as a model for latercomposers such as Handel, a dozen sonatas for violin and basso continuo, six ofthem chamber sonatas and six in the more formal style of church sonatas, andforty-eight Trio Sonatas similarly divided. The Concerto grosso, Op.
6, No.8 is the best known of all, with its extra final movement,establishing it as a Christmas Concerto, to be played on Christmas Eve andreflecting in the additional Pastorale the scene of the shepherds in thefields near Bethlehem. The concerto follows, otherwise, the normal form of theconcerto grosso, with a solo group of two violins, cello and harpsichord ororgan, the concertino, contrasted with the rest of the string orchestra.
Pachelbel belongs to a similar period in South German music. Born in1653,hewas an exact contemporary of Corelli and won a high reputation as anorganist, notably in Erfurt and then, from 1695 until his death in 1706, in hisnative city of Nuremberg. The best known of his many compositions today is the Canonand Gigue for three violins and basso continuo. The three-voice canonunfolds over a repeated bass and chordal pattern, in the form familiar from the chaconne,so that it is in fact a set of variations in canon, as one part imitates theother.
Albinoni, distinguished in Venice in particular for his then innovative oboeconcertos, is even better remembered today for a composition that was apparentlydevised by the modern Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto on material derivedfrom Albinoni, a moving and effective Adagio. Albinoni's Venetiancontemporary Alessandro Marcello, born in 1684, was a well known dilettante,dabbling in music, poetry and painting, as well as in philosophy andmathematics. His Oboe Concerto in D minor, transcribed for harpsichord byBach and once attributed to his younger brother, Benedetto Marcello, is a fineexample of the Venetian concerto of Vivaldi's time.
Handel, born in Halle in 1685, made his career largely in England, after anearly period at the opera-house in Hamburg followed by important years in Italyand brief appointment to the court of the Elector of Hanover, later George I ofEngland. In Rome he had met Corelli, who found his style of composition tooFrench, but in London he was originally employed as a composer of Italian opera,with a fluent style that he continued to employ in the English oratorio, a formthat he largely created himself. The Larghetto from the opera Serse (Xerxes)is better known as Handel's Largo and in its original operatic settingsatirises the vegetable loves of the monarch, observed to the amusement ofothers as he praises the shade of a plane-tree. The Arrival of the Queen ofSheba finds its natural place in the oratorio Solomon, although it isfamiliar enough in other contexts. His Alexander's Feast concerto waswritten for use in an interval during the first performance of his setting ofJohn Dryden's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day at Covent Garden in February1736. The concerto grosso is scored for oboes, strings and basso continuo andfollows a lively opening movement with a Largo in which the soloinstruments enter in imitation. There is a fugal Allegro and a gentlylilting conclusion that would have introduced the second act of the oratorio.