WILLIAM FLACKTON: Sonatas; HANDEL: Sonata; CARL FRIEDRICH ABEL: Sonata in C – Kathryn Steely, viola / Vincent de Vries, harpsichord / Adrienne Steely, cello – MSR Classics

by | May 17, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

WILLIAM FLACKTON: Sonata in C Major, Op. 2/4; Sonata in C Minor, Op. 2/8; Sonata in D Major, Op. 2/5; Sonata in G Major, Op. 2/6; HANDEL: Sonata in G Minor, Op. 1/6, HWV364A; CARL FRIEDRICH ABEL: Sonata in C Major, WKO184 – Kathryn Steely, viola / Vincent de Vries, harpsichord / Adrienne Steely, cello – MSR Classics MS 1378 [Distr. by Albany], 71:43 ****:
Long-lived (1709-1798) William Flackton of Canterbury pursued a number of interests – musical, literary, and churchly – though today he’s best known for his Viola Sonatas, a sampling of which appear on the current disc. Besides the viola, Flackton played violin and organ, the latter as church organist, and he also studied and composed church music. In the literary vein, Flackton was a stationer and bookseller as well as publisher. A very busy gent.
Flackton published his sonatas in 1770; they were sufficiently well received to merit a second expanded edition in 1776. The composer’s express aim was to “shew [the viola] in a more conspicuous manner, than it has hitherto been accustomed; the part generally allotted to it being little more than a dull ripiano, an accessory, an auxiliary, to fill up or compleat the harmony in full pieces of music. . . .” Even in Flackton’s day, apparently, the viola got no respect. In righting this wrong, Flackton offered what are thought to be the first viola sonatas published in England.
In his preface to the score, Flackton acknowledges the editorial oversight of “Mr. Abel,” whose own C Major Sonata, also on offer here, provides enlightening contrast to the Flackton sonatas. Unlike the more cosmopolitan Carl Abel (1723-1787), who along with J. C. Bach introduced London to instrumental music in the Classical style, Flackton represents a cozy throwback to an earlier era. His sonatas are clearly modeled on the sonatas da chiesa and da camera of earlier Baroque composers, especially the inescapable (for an Englishman like Flackton) G. F. Handel. But while Flackton’s works are reminiscent of Handel’s Violin Sonatas, the viola’s ripe dark timbre gives them an added baronial dignity and stateliness. Plus, Flackton is a fine melodist, a very competent contrapuntist—clearly a composer with talent as well as with a mission. His flowing adagios, his stately Sicilianas and minuets, are counterbalanced by allegros of Handelian dash and vigor. In short, if you like Handel, Flackton should tickle your fancy as well.
For purposes of comparison and contrast, as well as delectation, Steely and de Vries offer one of the aforementioned Handel Violin Sonatas, Op. 1. This is not one of my favorites, being a little dour compared to some of the others, but its inclusion is suggestive, as is the inclusion of Abel’s two-movement Sonata in C, originally written as a duo for viola da gamba (Abel’s own instrument) and a bass instrument—in this recording, a cello. It’s written in the graceful style galant that marks Abel’s mature work.
This is an enjoyable collection that should win fans for the very agreeable music of Mr. Flackton. The performers, all with connections to Baylor University, do Flackton proud. Kathryn Steely, associate professor of viola at Baylor, has a rich tone and plays very cleanly, with a fine sense of style. Her daughter Adrienne, who joins her on cello in the Abel, is certainly no slouch herself and produces an equality mellow and flowing tone. If I could have changed one thing about the recording, it would have been the venue. The McLean Foyer of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor looks to be a grand space, but the pervasive marble I see in the photo must be responsible for the Turkish bath–like ambiance that characterizes the sound. Certainly, the recording is clear enough, and the music still makes its effect, but it would have been nice to have sonics that fully match these very fine performances.
— Lee Passarella

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