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James Manheim, October 2009

Johan Helmich Roman goes down in the history books as Sweden’s first internationally famed composer, but mostly it is his sonatas for solo instruments that get recorded. He wrote a set of unaccompanied violin sonatas that lie easily under the player’s fingers, and the same is true of this group of 12 sonatas for flute and continuo, published in 1727. Roman’s chief stylistic influence was Handel, acknowledged in a direct quotation in the last movement of the entire set, and the motivic concision of the Allegro movements (try the Allegro second movement of the Flute Sonata No. 8 in A major, BERI 208, CD 2, track 6) owes a great deal to the German-English master. This is impressive enough in itself, for Handel isn’t an easy composer to imitate. But Roman also incorporates the emerging galant style, especially in the movements marked Larghetto, and its gentle shadings of light and dark into his music, and, when ornamentation is added (presumably transverse flutist Verena Fischer has added a good deal, although the basic booklet notes don’t discuss the issue), these sonatas would have been enough to display a virtuoso’s talents. The performances by Fischer, Baroque cellist Klaus-Dieter Brandt, and harpsichordist León Berben—all students of the established stars of the historical performance movement—are punchy, brisk, and technically confident…this is an enjoyable pair of discs of Baroque chamber music for specialist and general listener alike.

Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, September 2009

It is remarkable that Roman wrote his sonatas for the transverse flute, an instrument he himself did not play. Although there are some violinistic traits in some of these works they are quite idiomatic for the transverse flute. It is clear from the title page that Roman had written the sonatas for amateurs. Among them the transverse flute was quickly growing in popularity, both in Sweden and abroad. And the German flautist and theorist Johann Joachim Quantz had stated that in the 1720s there was very little music available which was specifically written for the transverse flute. So there definitely was a market for flute sonatas.

It is not known how well the collection sold, but copies have been found in several libraries in Sweden and abroad. Apparently they were played as late as the early 19th century. Like so much music of that time Roman’s sonatas reflected the ‘goûts réunis’: there are Italian and French elements, and a number of movements are in fact dances, although Roman uses only the Italian character descriptions like allegro, adagio or larghetto. The influence of Handel is particularly noticeable.

The structure of these sonatas reflects their individual character. Most are in four or five movements, but there are also some sonatas in six or seven movements. Some movements are divided into subsections with different character indications. These include the second movement of the Sonata No 2: larghetto, andante, adagio. Unusual are indications like ‘piva’ and ‘villanella’ which appear in the Sonata No 10. The first is what the French would call a ‘musette’, the latter reflects the influence of folk music which can be found at several points in these sonatas.

When I listened to these sonatas it struck me that many movements are quite dramatic, for example through the frequent use of short general pauses. In this performance the interpreters have included short cadenzas at various points. I don’t know if Roman gave any indication as to whether these should be added, but they seem to me in line with the overall character of these works. The artists have captured their spirit very well. Their performances are bold and daring. In some movements the realisation of the basso continuo has an almost concertante character which definitely suits them.

The contrasts in tempo between the movements come out well. Fast movements are generally played very fast and slow movements really slow…This is first-rate music and with Verena Fischer, Klaus-Dieter Brandt and Léon Berben it has found close to its ideal interpreters.

Raymond Tuttle
Classical Net, May 2009

Each sonata is in between four and six movements; many of these are in the style of dances. Like Handel (and Baroque composers in general), Roman reused his music, so movements from these sonatas reappear in altered form in later works. Other composers appropriated this music also—again, very much in the spirit of the times. In these multiple ways, Roman’s music diffused into the Swedish culture.

Handel would not have been ashamed to write these sonatas, which are remarkable for their variety and for the high level of inventiveness that Roman showed in their composition. They are not in a “learned” style but emphasize tunefulness, grace, and what a good amateur flutist could make sound attractive on his or her instrument. Neither the flutist nor the listener is likely to be bored. (The continuo players play a more subsidiary role, of course.) This is perfect music to enjoy on a Sunday morning with your feet up and a cup of coffee by your side.

Verena Fischer specializes in music from this era. Between 1996 and 2006, she was principal flutist with Musica Antiqua Köln, and she has recorded music by Telemann and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach for Deutsche Grammophon’s Archiv label. She uses a period instrument here, and she plays it with assurance and style, bending the pitch of sustained notes to good expressive effect. Brandt and Berben are unobtrusive but not unimaginative. Apparently this is the only recording to include all twelve sonatas.

Ardella Crawford
American Record Guide, May 2009

These cheerful, somewhat extroverted pieces are very well served in this release. Miss Fischer’s performance with a transverse flute is impressive: she plays with agility and a full bodied tone. The sound is very good; the notes, with a good biography of Roman, are excellent. I sometimes wish other labels, which seem either to publish fat, glossy booklets with non-essential text and pictures or not to offer any booklet at all in deference to trees, “carbon footprint”, etc., would take a leaf from Naxos with densely printed notes, often on a modest bifold or trifold.

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, February 2009

Sweden may not be widely known for its heritage of baroque composers, but if the pieces on this excellent two-disc set are any indication, Johan Helmich Roman deserves more attention. His travels around England (prior to taking a court position in Stockholm) exposed him to a variety of compositional schools and helped him develop a personal style that was decorous and stately but also infused with wit. These twelve sonatas are written with the accomplished amateur in mind, and nicely evoke similar collections by Telemann. The playing is excellent, the recorded sound maybe just a little bit on the echoey side.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

Though now almost totally forgotten, Johan Helmich Roman, was the father figure from which all of Swedish music was to evolve. Born in 1694, the son of a court musician, it was with royal financial support that the young man was to spend many years touring around Europe as a student and observer of the latest music. On his return to Sweden he was to create and conduct a symphony orchestra of international quality, but his life was to change with the death of the Queen, his main supporter, and later years were spent in obscurity. Fortunately his ideas were continued after his death, and many of his compositions were preserved in manuscript at the Music Library of Sweden. Only his collection of Twelve Flute Sonatas was published during his lifetime, Roman intending them for the gifted amateur musicians that he hoped to encourage in Sweden. He described them as from his ‘youth’ though the 1727 dedication to his patron, Queen Ulrica Eleonora, would place them much later. In content they are each in four or six movements alternating between slow and fast. As a sampling point go to the virile opening vivace of the Second Sonata (disc 1 track 6), or the gentle andante of the Eighth (disc 2 track 7) to hear Roman at his most inspired. They are here performed on transverse flute, baroque cello and harpsichord, and led by the German-born flautist, Verena Fischer. Starting life as an orchestral musician, it was some years later before she began studying baroque flute, and has since performed in many major period instrument ensembles. She shows the required nimbleness when called upon, but the sonatas were never intended to present the performers with technical difficulties. My small reservation comes in the slow movements which I feel need more variant in tempo. As here recorded, the music emerges as a duet between Fischer and Klaus-Dieter Brandt’s adroit cello playing, the balance given to Leon Berben consigning him to a rather reticent harpsichordist. It is a drawback, but the sound is pleasing on the ear.

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