Ensemble Marsyas/Whelan

Edinburgh 1742, Parte Seconda


Although it hardly compares with undertaking all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, for example, bassoonist Peter Whelan is showing an admirable dedication to completeness in his project to reacquaint folk with Francesco Barsanti. An Italian resident in Scotland in the 18th century, he was a major figure of the Edinburgh Musical Society and Edinburgh Festival-goers have recently heard his music performed in the restored splendour of St Cecilia’s Hall in the heart of the Old Town.

This Linn disc adds the second five of the ten Concerti grossi he published in the capital, the first such works ever in Scotland. Whereas the first five, featured on an earlier release, were scored for an ensemble with two horns, these are written for a group with a trumpet (David Blackadder) and two oboes (Alex Bellamy and Hannah McLaughlin). It is noticeable as the sequence unfolds towards the six-movement No.10 how very much in the mode of musical thinking Barsanti was. This is baroque music that anticipates classical forms in both its tonal colours and its rhythmic variation; it is not just a matter of local interest to rediscover an important composer’s work.

For context, the album again includes music by Handel. The two men knew one another well, and the Overture to Handel’s opera Atalanta, featured here, was in the manuscript collection of the Edinburgh Musical Society on the date in question, the work having premiered at Covent Garden a few years earlier.

Completing the recital, as on the first disc and likely to have been featured in Barsanti’s concerts, are four of his arrangements of Old Scots Tunes, played by violinist Colin Scobie with Elizabeth Kenny on guitar. For some they may prove the highlight of the album, for others a sideshow, but the authenticity of the programming is quite justified.

Even more fascinating is the information, in Michael Talbot’s thorough booklet note, that Barsanti followed up the Scots tunes with “six racy French airs” composed for a volume co-written with Handel , likely for his gifted pupil Princess Louisa, fifth daughter of George II, on the occasion of her marriage. With any luck Whelan has a soprano lined up to partner Ensemble Marsyas and continue this historical journey.

Keith Bruce