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JH ROMAN: The 12 Flute Sonatas – Dan Laurin, recorder/ Paradiso Musicale – BIS

JH ROMAN: The 12 Flute Sonatas – Dan Laurin, recorder/ Paradiso Musicale – BIS multichannel SACD BIS-2105, 70:04 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Johan Helmich Roman (1694 – 1758) was a Swedish Baroque composer. Though his lifespan indicates he was part of what we now call the “high baroque”, a time when many different stylistic elements had come into play, he curiously countermanded the mode and embraced instead what sounds today like a far more “classical” approach to composition. Particularly evident in this assessment is the neglect of the ne plus ultra of the baroque, the fugue. Search as you will, nothing remotely similar to the greats of Bach et al are to be found, so in many ways this late baroque composer was quite ahead of his time, giving us unpredictable suites and off-balance symmetries full of emotional twists and turns more content with vividness of communication as opposed to esoteric meaning and removed profundities.

Handel was his hero, and he did know him personally (and he is now called the “Swedish Handel”), but Naples was the emotional core of his art, at least for the later part of his life (the musicians here use an Italian style continuo). Though he was elected to the newly formed Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1739, this was the highlight of his career, and the death of his second wife along with the responsibility for five small children took a toll on his existence one can only imagine. His last years were spent in conversations with clergy and gentry (he was a religious man), making music, and exploring theory.

His twelve Flute Sonatas are the only works he published in his lifetime, though he was highly prolific in many genres, and their editions are marvels of craft and detail. Though they seem to have been written for transverse flute, Dan Laurin, a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, has chosen the recorder as it was more prevalent in the middle classes compared to the flute, and I must say I can’t imagine much to be gained if a flute had been used, so excellent is Laurin’s musicianship and tonal qualities. This is not Handel—let’s not kid ourselves—but few were at that point in time, and Roman’s inspiration operates at a high level indeed, offering much pleasure in this hour-plus recital. Yes, it is in superb surround sound, though curiously my player indicates SACD stereo-only; but I checked all the speakers, and it’s a go. A beautiful recording.

—Steven Ritter

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