GMCD 7330 – Music for Flute by Gasparo Fritz (1716-1783)
The concept of a Swiss composer of the 18th century is not one that immediately leaps to mind. In the historical scheme of things, the various cantons of this land, not yet united into the quadralingual nation we know today, seems on the periphery of mainstream musical trends of the period, and one would be hard-pressed to discover that an active musical life could be found in places such as Zürich and Lucerne. The names of composers such as Constatin Reindl and Nicholas Scherrer have all but disappeared from history, but there is a ray of light that has appeared in recent years. This comes in the form of Genevan composer Gaspard Fritz (1716-83), who was not only praised by Handel and Locatelli, but also by no less than Charles Burney, who noted that in a town that was almost devoid of music, Fritz and a group of expat Englishmen formed the Common Room of Geneva. Fritz even conducted the orchestra there, and audience members included Voltaire. Fritz was trained in Turin as a violinist and when he toured infrequently he was praised for his technical ability, although there were concerns expressed about his rather free interpretation of rhythm. In 1756 his works began to be performed at the Concerts Spirituels in Paris, a step that was de rigeur for composers seeking international fame.
This set of flute sonatas was published as Fritz’s op. 2 in 1748, probably in Geneva, and dedicated to the later Duke Friedrich III of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg-like many nobility of the period, an avid flute player. Originally, these works specified either violin or flute, but the parts are so idiomatic for the latter that it would be difficult to achieve the same results with a stringed instrument. All six of these works are fairly eclectic, demonstrating that Fritz was halfway between the Baroque and early Classical galant styles. This also indicates that he may have composed these at separate times, only putting them together as a set for publication. The opening sonata in C Major is clearly the most advanced of the set, with a vivacious first movement in something that resembles sonata form with contrasting themes and duple-triplet solo lines. The lilting dance rhythms of the second-movement Siciliano remind one of Franz Xaver Richter, who often used these stylized dances in his inner movements. The least advanced is the A-Major third sonata, which follows the four-movement Baroque format of two pairs of slowfast movements. It is the shortest of the set, with two very stately, almost Spanish-sounding slow movements, followed by highly florid Prestos (OK, the first is a Vivace) that evoke the world of Telemann. In the fourth sonata, one admired by Locatelli, the third-movement Gratioso is Handelian in the spinning-out of motivic units in Baroque fashion, building lines from sequenced musical fragments. Both the last two sonatas have final movements that are minuets, perhaps more deliberate than one might expect, indicating that Fritz was already thinking of a more stylized form of the dance. In several instances, he offers a continuo introduction to the last movement. In the aria movement of the second sonata in D Major, this expands lyrically into a delightful paraphrase of a vocal operatic work, allowing the sonata to move into a more pensive direction than the usual finale.
All three of the performers come from the famed Schola Cantorum in Basel, which is known for turning out musicians whose musicality and expertise in performance practice are exemplary. Claire Genewein gives a clear and precise performance on her transverse flute, while harpsichordist Nicoleta Paraschivescu is an equal partner in all aspects, never allowing the continuo to become subordinate. Maya Amrein’s cello is unobtrusive, supporting without dominating, making this one of the best trios I’ve heard recently. The ornamentation, mostly improvised, is done following French models of composers such as Leclair, and always seems appropriate for the works and never overbearing. The Fritz sonatas have been recorded before, in 1995 on the Jecklin label with violinst Susanne Baltensperger and harpsichordist Anna-Katherina Graf. Were it not for the fact that this seems to be out of print, one could make a comparison of both the pieces and the performances, but there is no doubt that the flute version would win by a mile. My only peeve is that Fritz’s first name is listed as “Gasparo,” which was no doubt taken from the title page of the printed edition of the sonatas (and of course is Italian), but mostly we refer to him as Gaspard or Kaspar, both of which forms he evidently used. If you are a lover of offbeat chamber music of the 18th-century galant period, you will want to have this in your collection.