“Neapolitan Flute Concertos” = GIUSEPPE DE MAJO: Flute Concerto in G Major; GENNARO RAVA: Flute Concerto in B Minor; TOMMASO PROTA: Flute Concerto in C Major; NICCOLÒ JOMMELLI: Flute Concerto in D Major; ANTONIO PALELLA: Flute Concerto No. 2 in G Major – Carlo Ipata, Baroque flute / Auser Musici – Hyperion CDA67784, 58:51 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The notes to this recording by Stefano Aresi give an interesting picture of the political and cultural life in eighteenth-century Naples, which saw a number of changes that resulted in economic prosperity and a resultant flourishing of the arts. In music, the city produced notables such as Nicola Porpora, Leonardo Leo, and Francesco Durante. Of the composers on the current disc, however, only Jommelli achieved wide-ranging fame, largely as an opera composer.
The rest are not only obscure but as Aresi concedes did not really contribute to what could be called a “Neapolitan flute school.” Only one, Rava, was a flutist (and oboist at the Teatro San Carlo) and so fully conversant with the flute and its technical possibilities. The other thing that curiously goes unsaid in the notes is that all these composers show the clear influence of Vivaldi. This makes sense since Vivaldi not only established the form of the concerto but of course wrote a boatload of concerti that explore the full range of the Baroque flute’s emotive possibilities.
Of the five composers on this disc, de Majo gets the least respect from Aresi. Giuseppe de Majo seems to have been a timeserver, a musician who knew how to play the political game that lead to professional success in Naples. With some pressure from Amalia, the queen consort of Naples, he was favored over Porpora and Durante for the position of director of the capella. Perhaps that left scant time for creating a distinctive musical style of his own; de Majo’s Flute Concerto in G Major could be a long-lost Vivaldi concerto, with its thrusting tutti and leaping flute figures. Too, like many of Vivaldi’s concertos, while cast in a major key, it seems to spend as much time in the minor as in the major.
Perhaps flute players or Baroque specialists will note an especially felicitous approach to writing for the flute in Rava’s concerto. To me, it doesn’t sound materially different from the other Vivaldi-inspired concerti on the disc. And while the Jommelli concerto shows the most independence from early-Baroque influence, seeming to stand stylistically on the cusp of the Classical era, it’s not terribly more memorable than the other works offered here. All are competent, pleasing, but hardly indispensible.
However, they all get top-notch advocacy from flutist Carlo Ipata and his original-instruments band Auser Musici. Ipata plays the Baroque flute with a fluency and tone production that make one just about forget he uses a wooden instrument based on a 1730 model. Auser Musici plays with the enthusiasm I admire in Europa Galante’s performances but without the hard edge that seems to dog their playing. Hyperion’s close but warm recording helps; it’s intimate enough to give prominence to the usually reticent theorbo yet without imparting any stridency.
So even if this disc isn’t indispensible for most music lovers – flute players excepted – it represents such fine all-around musical values that it will enhance any collection.
— Lee Passarella