FringeReview UK 2018
Baroque Cello Duo Anthony Pleeth and Tatty Theo play British-based foreign composers from the 1720s-40s. Geminiani, Comproni, Bononcini and Handel.
This is both special and pretty unusual: two baroque-playing cellists, Anthony Pleeth and Tatty Theo decide to focus on Handel’s London of the 1720s through 1740s, and come up with some pretty diverse composers. Listen and they make strange.
First up is Francesco Geminiani (1878-1762), whom Pleeth describes as curious and unknowable. Over the past thirty years he’s been rediscovered in quite a big way, like the slightly younger Veracini, Tartini and Locatelli have.
He’s not just a name anymore. His Concerti Grossi and Sonatas have become quite fashionable again and his Op 5 Sonatas reworking Archangelo Corelli (1653-1713) garnered a real boost when recorded by Andrew Manze and his band. Geminiani’s quirky and different: engaging, attractive and memorable too.
What we have is a remarkably different, harmonically adventurous and memorable composer, in this Sonata from the Op 5 (I think No. 6 in A minor) set we have a slow Adagio then Allegro Assai, so very slow and pretty quick.
He’s not Italianate in an obvious sense, and you wonder what kind of British obliquity he picked up by basing himself over here, as well as from Corelli (the Italian British composer of choice who shaped just about everyone from Purcell and later Handel onwards.). It’s wonderfully sonorous playing and Pleeth and Theo have a tenebrous feel for this minor-keyed, dark woodiness.
For the final three composers we moved into Handel’s world and stayed there. A player he admired, a deadly rival and finally the master.
So Comproni who died in 1746 was Handel’s bass player of choice and many solo were written for him throughout Handel’s opera career which came to and end around 1740. I’ve never heard his compositions and they’re pretty obscure, but like many baroque works, comparable with the famous. The slow–fast-slow-fast niceties are observed, there’s a nutty baseline, and a melodic grace that’s recognizably more British-sounding than Italian perhaps. It’d be goo to locate a CD of his works.
Next Bononcini, Handel’s sparring opera opposite: they stole from each other of course as baroque composers did, the whole aesthetic emerging into individual copyright assertion far later. Still, the eighteenth century was the time when this borrowing first came under fire. The point is, not if they borrow, but what did they do better with it?
Giovanni Bononicini (1670-1747) writing here sometime in the 1730s seems to be quoting a famous Handel aria – which did come first. ‘Did you not hear my lady/Go down the garden singing?’, from Handel’s 1728 opera Tolomeo, though it only seemed to be me who heard it! After this a more distinctly Italianate sound world envelops Bononcini – Vivaldi and others, though he was older than Vivaldi. His music’s emerging from undeserved obscurity and scandal; some of Handel is his originally. His vocal works are appearing on stand-alone CDs too; he is primarily an opera composer. Again, good to see his instrumental works arrive too, even as interludes.
Finaly Handel himself, a typically massive ambitious slow-fast-slow-fast affair from his Op 2 set I think – the No. 8 in G minor. It’s a powerful, expressive work, and clearly all the chiaroscuro you find in his opera gets refracted here in a musical flexibility and a language of dialogue, call, refrain and witty counterpoint.
A really distinguished duo, musicianly, never showing off but quietly virtuosic, making purely inward-sounding choices with a blended sonority that brought out the differences, the edginess of the baroque, not some smooth anonymous and sleek delivery. It takes integrity to stick to such deeply reflective music and project it so well. More than worth spending an hour with. It’d be good to hear this on a CD.