Edinburgh 1742

Edinburgh 1742
Ensemble Marsyas
Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters, horns,
Emilie Renard, mezzo-soprano, Peter Whelan, directot
Linn CKD567. 68′

The rather underwhelming title of this CD doesn’t really do justice to the wealth of surprises within. Barsanti’s Horns might be just one possible alternative, and a listen to track 2, the Allegro from Francesco Barsanti’s Concerto grosso in D (Op3/3) will explain why. Horn players Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters and timpanist Alan Emslie mount an extraordinary attack on the senses with some of the most thrilling writing for horns and timpani that I can think off. The return with gusto at the end of the innocently entitled Menuet. This recording includes the first five of Barsanti’s ten Opus 3 Concerti grossi, all with dramatic writing for the horns and times, and four of his arrangements of Scottish songs, enclosing a central burst of Handel.

Francesco Barsanti (c1690-1775) was one of many Italian musicians that came to England during the 18th century, arriving in London in 1723. He earnt his living from teaching, music copying and occasional oboe playing. He was a companion of his fellow import from Lucca, Francesco Geminiani, who invited to join his short-lived Masonic lodge. He spent a year or so in York around 1732, and moved to Edinburgh in 1735 to join the Edinburgh Musical Society and playing in their professional orchestra. He returned to London with a Scottish wife in 1743, the year that his Opus 3 concertos were published. They followed much earlier collections of recorder and flute Sonatas (opus 1 and 2) in the 1720s. Back in London he started playing the viola rather than the oboe, and became involved with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Madrigal Society.

Emilie Renard joins in the Barsanti fun with one of Handel’s most dramatic arias, Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana from the 1735 Alcina, metaphorically depicting an angry tigress trying to protect her young from approaching hunters, to the inevitable accompaniment of the two horns. Emilie Renard enters into the drama of the aria with some brilliantly executed runs and ornaments, although she seems to have developed a rather alarming depth of vibrato since I raved about her singing in years gone by. This is followed by Handel’s arrangement of two movements from The Water Music as a Concerto for horns in F (HWV 331), seemingly first performed in 1723, and the little March in F for two horns and bassoon (HWV346, known as the ‘March in Prolemy’ on account of its appearance in the overture to his 1729 opera Tolomeo. 

As a contrast to the energy of the horn dominated programme comes a selection from Barsanti’s Old Scots Airs, published some time before the 1743 concertos, and here performed with violin and harpsichord. They reflect the enormous interest in all things Scottish in the decades after the Act of Union.

Michael Talbot’s notes give a fascinating insight into the Edinburgh Musical Society and the life of the hitherto overlooked immigrant musician Barsanti. The performances from Ensemble Marsyas, and the direction of Peter  Whelan, are excellent. They met during studies in Basel and touring with the influential European Union Baroque Orchestra.

Returning to the opening query about the CDs title, I still haven’t managed to work out the relevance of the year 1742. Perhaps I have missed something obvious, but the date doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere in the CD notes. A follow up CD of the rest of Barsanti’s 1743 Opus 3 concertos, written for trumpet and two oboes is inevitable, and I look forward to it.

 

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