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"Per Monsieur Pisendel: Six Virtuoso Violin Sonatas of the Baroque"

La Serenissima

rec: Sep 2002, Brightling (East Sussex), Church of St Thomas à Becket; Nov 2, 2002, Crichton (Midlothian, Scotland), Parish Church
AVIE - AV0018 (79'09")

Tomaso Albinoni: Sonata à Violino Solo di me Tomaso Albinoni Composta per il Signor Pisendel in B flat (So 32); Sonata in g minor (So 33); Johann Georg Pisendel: Sonata in D; Sonata in e minor; Antonio Vivaldi: Sonata à Solo facto per Monsieur Pisendel Del Vivaldi in C (RV 2); Sonata à Solo facto per Monsieur Pisendel Del Vivaldi in c minor (RV 6); Johann Georg Pisendel or Antonio Vivaldi: Saraband in C

Adrian Chandler, violin; Gareth Deats, cello; Robert Howarth, harpsichord

Every period has its stars, and the 18th century was no exception. The German violinist Johann Georg Pisendel was the star of his time. He was an exceptional talent, and was recognized as such by the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni. He was a member of the Dresden court orchestra, which was considered the best ensemble of Europe, and which consisted of many virtuosos on their instruments, like the flautist Buffardin and the double bass-player Zelenka.
That Pisendel appears mentioned on a CD with Vivaldi and Albinoni is no coincidence. Pisendel went to Venice to study with Vivaldi. It seems that the ‘red priest’ treated him more like a colleague than a pupil. He showed his admiration by dedicating a number of sonatas to him. Many Vivaldi compositions by have been found in Dresden, which most likely is the direct result of his close relationship with Pisendel.
It was in Venice that Pisendel must have met Tomaso Albinoni as well. He was just as impressed as Vivaldi, which resulted in at least one sonata specifically dedicated to Pisendel. The other sonata recorded here was also found in Dresden, but without the name of the composer. In 1976, the handwriting was identified as Albinoni’s, so it is safe to assume that this sonata is another which Albinoni composed for Pisendel.
And, like many musicians in the baroque era, Pisendel also composed for his instrument. Two of his own sonatas are recorded here. The sonata in D is a mixture of German and Italian styles. The first movement links up with the German stylus phantasticus of the 17th century, with its quick alternation of motifs. The last movement demonstrates Vivaldi’s influence, especially in frequent double-stops toward the end.

As far as the programme on this CD is concerned: this is a very admirable effort to present a forgotten master in his proper context. But some decisions taken here are questionable.
It is possible that Pisendel played the sonatas Vivaldi and Albinoni composed for him when he stayed in Venice. But in the booklet nothing is said about the date of Pisendel's own works. It is reasonable to assume that he composed them in Dresden. And since almost all of the sonatas dedicated to him have been found in Dresden it is very likely that he took them with him when he returned to Dresden and played them there. Pitch there was certainly not higher than a=415’. From that perspective it is a little strange that all works are played here at the Venetian standard pitch a=440’. And although it is not impossible, it is rather unlikely that at the Dresden court an Italian harpsichord would have been used for the basso continuo – as is the case here.
Pisendel's Sonata in E minor exists in two versions. The musicians have decided to perform the latter one, but also to include the 'arioso' from the first version, which Pisendel later removed. I can understand that they wanted to record it, but it would have been far better to keep it separate from the rest of the sonata. What we have here is a mixture of two versions, which in fact never existed.
I am not very enthusiastic about the way these sonatas are played. The interpretation is very mechanical: the musicians choose a tempo and stick to it very strictly, without any variation. And since the violinist plays legato almost constantly, this results in a rather undifferentiated performance. Basically everything is played the same way, whether the sonata is in major or minor. The tempi are not always well chosen. The tempo in the 'moderato' movement of Pisendel's Sonata in e minor is too fast. And 'grave' is perhaps the slowest movement in the baroque period, but the musicians seem not to know (Vivaldi, Sonata in c minor).
The use of ornamentation is very inconsistent. Sometimes phrases are repeated without any ornamentation at all, which is anything but ‘authentic’.
The performance of Pisendel's Sonata in D is simply unacceptable. The rhetorical gestures in this work are completely ignored, the contrasts are smoothed down and there is a total lack of agogics here. Not that the Italian sonatas are much better. In the largo of his Sonata in C (RV 2) Vivaldi frequently uses the rhetorical figure of the suspiratio, but here that goes by unnoticed.
As interesting as the programme on this CD is, and as positive as the attention given to Pisendel, the musicians haven't done the music justice. The playing is virtuosic, but superficial.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

Relevant links:

Tomaso Albinoni
Johann Georg Pisendel
Antonio Vivaldi

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