LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Mr Abel’s Fine Airs: 24 pieces for solo viola da gamba
PERFORMER: Susanne Heinrich (viola da gamba)
CATALOGUE NO: Hyperion CDA 67628
German-born Carl Friedrich Abel spent most of his professional career in London where his concert series with JC Bach in the 1760s and ’70s became a celebrated feature of the capital’s musical life. No doubt Abel’s skill on the viola da gamba – an instrument that was by then regarded as quaintly old-fashioned – gave him a certain eccentric distinction amongst the English cognoscenti; indeed, he seems to have started something of a viol revival, inspiring a number of distinguished artists and aristocrats to take up the instrument – among them Thomas Gainsborough, Laurence Sterne and Elizabeth, Countess of Pembroke. Abel’s sound-world combines the felicitous, gallant style popular in Georgian England with a darker, more complex art. His split-persona is gradually revealed as this selection of pieces unfolds, and wistful slow movements and elegant, courtly dances – with their faux rustic effects – give way to more rigorous contrapuntal works and flights of virtuosity. Susanne Heinrich rises ably (no pun intended) to the challenge of understanding this 18th-century Jekyll-and-Hyde figure, heightening to fine effect the music’s light and shade, energy and indolence. Her readings are effortlessly poised and imbued with an almost vocal lyricism – a fitting reflection of what Charles Burney described as Abel’s own ‘discretion, taste and pathetic manner of expressing’.