Thursday Live at Handel House (the museum is celebrating its tenth anniversary this autumn) is a popular series for early music afficionados. The hour-long concert is held in the intimate space of the Rehearsal Room, where Handel himself rehearsed his many operas and oratorios, giving it a special atmosphere.

© Matthew Hollow
© Matthew Hollow

For their recital entitled “Grand Tour of 18th century Europe”, the cellist Amélie Addison and harpsichordist Masumi Yamamoto, a Handel House regular, devised a programme exploring rarely-performed cello sonatas of the eighteenth century including those by Flackton and Boismortier. Their well-informed introductions to the works added to our understanding and enjoyment of the music.

They opened with Solo for Violoncello no. 3 by the English composer William Flackton (1709-1798). Flackton is known for championing the lower string instruments including the viola, and these elegant works were probably intended for amateur players. Published in 1770, stylistically the four-movement work is closer to the Baroque rather than the emerging Classical style. Amélie especially brought out the lyricism in the third movement and the liveliness of the variation finale. This was followed by a sonata by Geminiani, a contemporary of Handel, who worked in London for many years. The richness of the harmony in his cello sonata Op.5 no.2 (published in 1739) was highlighted by Masumi’s imaginative realization of the continuo.

Then as an interlude, the performers each played a solo work. Amélie chose the Prelude from Bach’s unaccompanied cello suite no. 3 which was performed with warmth and sensitively phrased. The harpsichord solo was Froberger’s Lamento composed on the death of the young Ferdinand IV. Masumi brought out the intensity of the harmonic progression, culminating in the final ascending scale symbolizing the youth’s soul rising to heaven.

After surveying English, Italian and German repertoire, the duo turned next to French music. Boismortier is well known for his flute sonatas, but his cello sonatas are equally attractive and deserve to be performed more often. The cello sonata Op.5 no.5 was gracefully played, although perhaps the cello could have experimented with more ornamentation, which was the practice of French music at the time. Amélie and Masumi concluded their "Grand Tour" with the first of Vivaldi’s nine cello sonatas. Technically this was the most demanding work of the evening, but they gave a buoyant interpretation exploring the various twists and turns of the harmony. Masumi’s use of the lute stop in the third movement was especially effective and evoked the Venetian spirit.

All in all, it was an enlightening programme and made me curious about the development of the cello sonata between Flackton in 1770, where they left off, and Beethoven’s first cello sonata in 1796. I hope the duo will look into this period and do a sequel in the future.