Ensemble Marsyas - Edinburgh 1742 - Gramophone

The music of Francesco Barsanti (c1690-1775) normally only makes it on to a recording when it shows its Scottish accent. The Lucca-born composer spent eight years in the service of the Edinburgh Musical Society between two lengthy spells in London, and titbits from his A Collection of Old Scots Tunes regularly surface whenever a disc or concert has Scottish Baroque as its subject. Rarely, rarely, comes any of his other music, and on the evidence of this release one really has to wonder why. His six published opus numbers include a set of 10 concerti grossi, Op 3, five of them for trumpet, oboes and strings and five for two horns, timpani and strings; and in the expert hands of Ensemble Marsyas and their horn players Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters, the latter turn out to be works of enormous joy and spirit. Their sound world will be familiar to many from Handel’s Water Music, and while the minuet finales sound as if they could almost be lost numbers from that work, the chortling energy Barsanti conjures in his allegros has an abandon that might just have been a bit too boisterous for a royal river party.

The Handel connection – he and Barsanti certainly knew each other – is recognised in the great man’s Concerto for two horns, HWV331 (an arrangement of two movements from the Water Music), a march from Tolomeo and the superb ‘Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana’ from Alcina. Emilie Renard is the soprano here, and no less boldly magnificent is she than the horns that blow through not only this piece but virtually the whole disc like an invigorating and cleansing wind.

Barsanti the ‘Scotsman’ is also heard in four Scots Tunes sweetly and idiomatically played by violinist Colin Scobie. Michael Talbot supplies a booklet-note that stokes fascination with this neglected figure and, this being a Linn recording, the sound is naturally stunning. Once again Baroque music surprises and delights!

Gramophone
01 October 2017