GIUSEPPE SAMMARTINI: Harsichord Concerto in A Major; Flute Concerto in D Major; Flute Concerto in A Major; Oboe Concerto No. 9 in B-flat Major; Oboe Concerto No. 12 in C Major – Donatella Bianchi, harpsichord /Paolo Ferrigato, flute / Francesco Quaranta, oboe /I Musici Ambrosiani /Paolo Suppa – Dynamic DM8003, 62:24 [Distr. by Naxos] ***½:
Giuseppe (1695-1750) is the other Sammartini. Often confused with his younger brother Giovanni, Giuseppe was far more famous as a performer on the oboe than as a composer, while Giovanni is recognized as an important pioneer in the development of the symphony. Nonetheless, being a Baroque composer-performer, Giuseppe was typically prolific, turning out a number of sonatas, solos, concerti, and concerti grossi, as well as a single opera. His most famous composition is a lovely concerto not for his own instrument but for the recorder. That Concerto in F does not show up on the current disc, but it includes some attractive works and offers a good sampling of Giuseppe’s music.
The Flute Concertos in D and A Major are apparently works of his early years in his native Milan. They’re the least impressive pieces on offer here, yet they exhibit the gift for melody that Sammartini commanded throughout his life. The D Major is a bit more virtuosic, but neither concerto is given a leg up by flutist Paolo Ferrigato’s cautious playing, which the orchestra seconds.
With the Concertos Nos. 9 and 12 written for Sammartini’s own instrument, we find more memorable music, especially Concerto No. 12, which bears comparison with Albinoni’s best. The concerti are part of a manuscript containing twelve concerti, mostly in concerto grosso style. Nos. 9 and 12, however, are full-fledged oboe concertos. Written in London, where Sammartini took up residence in 1728 as oboist of the King’s Theater, they show the influence of Handel, both in their melodic contours and in their passagework. Not a bad model, most listeners would agree; they’re accomplished, attractive works and get what seem to be fine performances from Francesco Quaranta.
The Harpsichord Concerto – according to the notes the only one of these pieces to have been recorded before – is even more obviously indebted to Handel, being closely modeled on Handel’s popular keyboard concertos, which he presented as interludes to the oratorios. Sammartini’s work may not be the equal of the best of Handel’s, but it’s not far off the mark, lacking only those immediately hummable melodies that Handel seemed to produce by the cartload. Sammartini’s tender and sensitively arranged third-movement Andante is the high point of the piece. Donatella Bianci is clearly on the same page as Sammartini; her performance captures the several moods of the work well, though the last movement could use a bit more sparkle and dash.
The orchestra, which I haven’t run into before on disc, does a mostly creditable job as well. If it’s a sort of ad hoc body, which I suspect it is, it’s nonetheless composed of fine musicians. Except for the plodding approach to the Flute Concerti—probably in deference to the soloist—I Musici Ambrosiani makes a good showing. The recording from the resonant Auditorium Marceline Tommaseo in Sammartini’s hometown is as pleasing as the performances and the music.
— Lee Passarella