Virtuoso Recorder Works - Souvenirs d'Italie
(various). /Souvenirs d’italie: Concerti & Sonate/. Maurice STEGER and friends. Harmonia Mundi HMC 902253. (p) 2016; Time: 72:39; Rating: (5/5).
I first became acquainted with Steger in his collaboration with Reinhard Goebel (Telemann Flute Quartets) and have followed him since. There’s more than one virtuosic recorder player out there, but Steger sets himself apart, I think, in making it look so easy. Combined with his technical skill, he has an excellent sense of style that comes across in his interpretations.
This album is focused on some of the music brought home by a Count Harrach after a sojourn in Naples in the 1700s. These souvenirs come from the pens of composers such as Sammartini, Colista, Hasse, Sarro, Caldara, Vinci, Leo, Fiorenza, Montanari, and Piani. Some of these names might already be familiar; a few for me were real novelties. Steger’s ensemble goes unnamed on this recording (not entirely a new practice for the flautist), but the “friends” number fifteen, including some favorite musicians such as Margit Übellacker from L’Arpeggiata, Vanni Moretto from Il Giardino Armonico’s earlier days, Jonas Zschenderlein, and Philippe Grisvard.
Steger has chosen a good variety to highlight for this recital/album. His feisty side is revealed in the last movement of the Sarro concerto. The mood is quite lighter in Fiorenza’s A-minor sonata, enhanced by a unique sound from the continuo (which includes the salterio).
Steger is also good about changing the “color” of the music. He uses eight instruments across the album. The higher flute (flautino, or sopranino recorder) helps quite a bit to change the color in Montanari’s concerto, as does the addition of bassoon in the bass. The color is most definitely different for pieces that may have been intended for violin; the collaboration with violin in the Caldara ciaccona is not quite balanced in terms of volume, but the two players are well-matched in terms of style. The Piani sonata is an arrangement of a violin piece but works just as well here on the recorder.
While I would not be so bold to ascribe “masterpiece” status to each piece included in this recording, all are worth being recorded and contribute to a tasty buffet of diverse language from a relatively close period of time. All this lends props to de Brosses assertion that musical tastes in Italy changed frequently. It’s a treat to hear so many gathered here side by side by true virtuosos. Sound quality is good; the instruments are all relatively up-front but there’s also the luxury of a palpable reverb.