- Trio Sonata for 2 violins & continuo in G major, Op. 3/1
The London Baroque's traversal of the Baroque trio sonata across its various developments over time and into diverse national styles enters somewhat arcane territory here with a program of English trio sonatas of the 18th century. The program is chronological, at least by publication (the Op. 5 set of trio sonatas by Handel, though published in 1759, was assembled from earlier music from a variety of genres), and the pieces represented run from one of the first English examples of the trio sonata to Classical-style music in which the harpsichord continuo is almost superfluous. The chief point of interest here is the presence of some little-recorded composers: the second tier of Charles Avison, William Boyce, Carl Abel, and Thomas Arne, and the still rarer John Ravenscroft and Thomas Erskine, the sixth Earl of Kelly in Scotland. Ravenscroft was an Englishman who traveled to Italy at the end of the 17th century, probably studied with Corelli, and produced a facsimile of his style competent enough that 40 years later a collection of his sonatas was published as Corelli's Opus 7. What is more surprising is to hear the Corelli style persist long after that, through Avison's "Trio Sonata in D minor, Op. 1/1," Boyce's "Trio Sonata in D major, Op. 1/5," and even Thomas Arne's "Trio Sonata in G major, Op. 3/2," of 1757, although the last movement of that work does lighten up a bit. The Abel and Erskine pieces not only show the influence of the galant style but display an uneasy tension between the fetching melodic lines and the implacable footsteps of the continuo. The two Handel sonatas far outclass the rest of the music on the album, and the performances of these -- hear violinists Ingrid Seifert and Richard Gwilt as they give slashing emphasis to the harmonic anchor points of the contrapuntal passages -- may be worth the price of admission. The rest offers not unpleasant but rarely memorable music, mostly in the Corelli style. BIS' engineering is not up to its usual high standard here; Sweden's Länna Church is a chilly, washed-out sound environment completely at odds with the upholstered middle-class surroundings for which the music was intended. Certainly of interest to specialists, but less so than other discs in the London Baroque series for general listeners. Notes are in English, German, and French.