Königliche Gambenduos für 2 Bassgamben G033

The Königliche Gambenduos, or to give them title in the Berlin manuscript: Recueil des Plus belles Sonates a basse de Viole par les meilleurs auteurs François et Italien are a collection of arrangements of violin sonatas by Italian and (Italian-influenced) French composers from the first half of the eighteenth century, with a sonata by Franz Benda, who worked in Germany. There are also twelve sonatas for two equal basses by Boismortier, which do not exist elsewhere, and appear to have been written originally for viols.

It is likely that Ludwig Christian Hesse made the arrangements for use by the Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (the recipient of Jean-Baptiste Forqueray's famous correspondence about viol playing). The pieces are all very skilfully selected and arranged for viol; an interesting technique is the creation of new sonatas from movements from different sonatas in the violin originals. As the preface in this edition explains, several details were changed to suit the viol, and facsimiles show the sort of adaptions made.

The first volume, reviewed here, contains two sonatas each by Giovanni Battista Somis and Jean Baptiste Senallié, the Senallié from collections published in Paris in 1716 and 1727. This is good music, combining, like Leclair, the drive of Italian music with occasional touches of French grace. It is also very tuneful and grateful to play, making some technical demands, but not too many. The bass parts often are almost equal in thematic interest, giving a true duet texture; it seems that the movements have been carefully selected to preserve this feature (to keep the royal pupil interested?). The Somis pieces have an incipient galant style to them (see especially the Adagio that opens the second Sonate), a feature which is echoed in some of the Senallié movements eg the Largo of Sonate 4. The Senallié are unusual in incorporating dance movements, like the lively Gigue which concludes the third Sonate, the Italianate Allemande and thoroughly French Menuetts alternativement of the fourth.

Of the other volumes, 2 and 3 contain the twelve Boismortier sonatas, and 4 and 5 contain arrangements of music by Corelli, Mascitti, Leclair, Montanari, Senallié and Benda. They are essential purchases, and show what viol players were playing in the eighteens century. We should remember that Antoine Forqueray was famous principally for his performance of Italian violin music.

Andrew Kerr, The Viol No. 2, The Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain, April 2006