David J Golby
Summer 2013, Vol. 69
Alessandro Rolla Two flute quartets op.2
(B1418; B1415) for flute, violin, viola, cello
ed Michael Elphinstone
Edition HH, @Mozart, HH299.fsp, Bicester,
2012 (pbk, £26)
ISMN 979 0 708092 48 3
Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841), to his credit, chose to specialise in the study of the viola from his teens, which brought him into contact with many of the most influential figures of the time such as G B Sammartini, and institutions, including La Scala and the Conservatory, in Milan. Perhaps inevitably, he also came to be in demand as a violinist, conductor, teacher and composer, and was respected by Spohr, Paganini and Verdi, among others. He was also a respected exponent of Beethoven’s works. During his long life, Rolla’s activities touched a diverse array of musicians, although he remained closely connected with Milan for virtually all of his life.
Rolla’s compositions, which owe a debt to both Italian instrumental and Viennese Classical conventions, include a significant number featuring the flute. This latest edition completes the Edition HH set of all eight of the flute quartets. The first six were published in the 1780s as a distinct set, while these remaining two first appeared in the early 19th century, published as op.2 by Cappi in Vienna. Elphinstone provides good evidence that this was in 1802 and not 1822 as some sources have it; later, Sieber published a French edition.
Elphinstone’s Introduction very helpfully outlines the contrasting nature of the two sets. In essence, the first six quartets were written with specific professional players in mind, whereas the last two quartets were aimed at the growing amateur market, which was precipitated by the rise of the gentleman dilettante flautist during this period. There was also a comparable predilection for the violin among gentleman amateurs at this time, but the two quartets published here, though not especially technically demanding for flute and cello, are nonetheless particularly challenging for the violin and viola, which were of course Rolla’s own specialist instruments.
The solo episodes for these instruments, exploiting high positions and a wide range of techniques, such as bariolage (rapid alternation between open and stopped strings) and double-stopping, would probably have been beyond virtually all amateurs. I would suggest, therefore, that the intention to involve some professionals in performance (perhaps initially Rolla himself among them) was factored into their composition. The result of this fusion of amateur and professional demands is a very appealing set of pieces, which offer a particularly stimulating experience for the violin and viola players, and could be programmed in all sorts of performance contexts.
From the perspective of the text itself, the editor clearly has had quite a task on his hands in collating the parts from both editions and in reconciling their inconsistencies, as well as in providing some indication of dynamics and expression, which are almost totally absent from the sources. This has been done with admirable attention to detail.
The usual high standard of presentation and editorial rigour are once again in evidence from Edition HH. Any editorial interventions are clearly differentiated from the source material and, in addition to the Introduction, the accompanying Textual Notes are comprehensive and unambiguous, should additional clarification be sought. I now look forward in eager anticipation to new editions of Rolla’s viola concertos (could this be a worthwhile project for the same publisher?) and their subsequent revival in the not too distant future.
David J Golby
We are grateful to the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.