John Stanley (1712-1786)
Complete Flute Sonatas
Eight solos for flute and basso continuo, Op.1 (1740)
Six solos for flute and basso continuo, Op.4 (1745)
Daorsa Dervishi (baroque flute)
Alessia Travaglini (viola da gamba/cello), Nicola Bisotti (harpsichord)
rec. 2021, Basilica di San Giovanni in Canale, Piacenza
Brilliant Classics 96397 [2 CDs: 138]
John Stanley’s two sets of Flute Sonatas – Op.1 published in 1740 and Op.4 five years later – offer a slice of Baroque form and structure cannily infiltrated by new trends in the Galant style. The Sonata da chiesa is the formal approach but Stanley was so mellifluous and ingenious a composer – what a pity so much of his music has not survived – that even in a form as hermetic as this chamber one, you’ll find it difficult to resist his compressed blandishments.
Compressed because he says what he wants swiftly and then moves on. Knowing his Scarlatti, having assimilated the lessons of Corelli and Vivaldi, he was fully able to replicate elements of their heritage but in his own voice. The earlier set varies between three and four movements and only in the eighth and final sonata does he challenge decorum by starting with an Allegro, elsewhere conforming to prevailing taste in opening with a slow movement. If you know his Organ Concertos, Op.10 or the String Concertos, Op.2 much less the Organ Voluntaries you’ll expect precisely what Burney called him; ‘a neat, pleasing performer and a natural and agreeable composer’.
Neatness and agreeability are virtues to be prized. Added to them are the quizzical, pensive staccati that lend the opening of Sonata 2 such a grave quality. Incidentally here and in No.3 of this Op.1 set the viola da gamba is replaced by the cello. Lyricism can be admired in the opening Largo of No.3, and Stanley’s convivial charm in the Minuet finale of No. 4. Whether lively or languid Stanley vests these flute sonatas with tremendous charm and no little technical adroitness. Of particular note is the series of variations that ends Sonata 6, an unusual, formal way for Stanley – the master of organ improvisation – to end the work.
His well-balanced, formally civilised works are nevertheless capable of surprising eloquence, as in the opening of the Second Sonata in the Op.4 collection though even this has to cede to the sustained Adagio of No.3 as an example of Stanley’s command of formal beauty. This sonata’s finale has another Minuet with variations, an example of English sturdiness that generates propulsion. He is a master of the ‘sprung’ Siciliano (sample Sonata No.6), the swift-as-a-gazelle Allegro and the calming delights of another Minuet with variations – all these last examples from the final Sonata.
The performers have been recorded in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Canale, Piacenza though it doesn’t fortunately, blunt or muddy articulation. Their deft interplay and negotiation of Stanley’s registral and coloratura demands is a definite plus and so is Daorsa Dervishi compelling playing.