Veracini, in his day (1690-1768), was very much a prototype for the far more famous Paganini of a later era, being a wizard on the violin, a composer as well as performer, vain and extravagant, and prone to weird behavior. On one occasion he threw himself from a third-storey window, some say maddened by fumes from his alchemy experiments, others say from being bested in a violinistic competition. On other occasions, well-satisfied with his accomplishments, he is said to have proudly proclaimed: "One God, one Veracini." What with alchemical fumes, lead in the flatware, and miasmas floating in from the marshes of the Campagna, it's a wonder every Italian wasn't ga-ga in those times, so perhaps we should forgive the composer his oddities and concentrate on his music.
First and foremost he was a brilliant violinist. By age 25 he was regarded, according to Charles Burney (the best-known music historian of the 18th century), as "the greatest violinist in Europe." It is asserted that the famous Tartini, far better remembered today with his "Devil's Trill" Sonata, upon hearing Veracini play cancelled his engagements and locked himself in a room to practice. Veracini dominated his field for about 20 years until being somewhat upstaged by Geminiani. Only secondarily was Veracini a composer, despite his fecundity, for here he suffered from limitations and inconsistencies. Original in some ways, he was exceedingly backward in others, and Burney reported that his compositions were "too wild and flighty for the taste of the English at this time."
In one way Veracini was very unlike Paganini: he wrote a vast amount of music not for the violin, and therefore not for himself to play. Among his products were numerous concertos, cantatas, and even operas. His Adriano premiered in London in 1735 and starred, among other great singers, the castrato Farinelli whose life has recently become the subject of a prize-winning film.
A set of twelve sonatas "for violin or recorder" published in 1716 was dedicated to the Prince Elector, Friedrich August of Saxony, who a year later hired Veracini as court violinist at Dresden.
These sonatas, especially as recorded here, make pleasant music indeed for casual listening. Gwyn Roberts, a deft soloist, handles her instrument with aplomb and is accompanied by four musicians calling themselves, after Vivaldi's sonata, Tempesta di Mare ("Storm at Sea"), and variously playing theorbo, lute, bassoon, cello, harpsichord and organ. This mellow ensemble sets off the recorder's more penetrating timbre admirably well, but goes even beyond that to impart to it a kind of seasoning, or burnished glow, that it would never have alone. In conclusion I must confess a shocking thing: the recorder is very nearly my least favorite instrument, surpassed only by the accordion and the water-gong. The fact that I genuinely like this album is the best commendation I could give to both the composer and his current executants.