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"Bach, Biber, Pisendel, Westhoff - L'Art du violon seul dans l'Allemagne baroque"

Mira Glodeanu, violin

rec: Oct 6 - 9, 2008, Pommiers, Église
Ambronay Editions - AMY019 (© 2009) (65'01")

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Partita No 2 in d minor (BWV 1004): chaconne; Sonata No 1 in g minor (BWV 1001); Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704): Passacaglia in g minor [1]; Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755): Sonata in a minor; Johann Paul VON WESTHOFF (1656-1705): Partita IV in C [2]

Sources: [1] Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, 15 Sonaten über die Mysterien des Rosenkranzes & Passacaglia, 1674?; [2] Johann Paul von Westhoff, Sei Partite à violino senza basso accompagnato, 1696

The emergence of the concertante style in Italy went hand in hand with the emancipation of the various instruments. In the renaissance they were mostly used to support the singers, and most instrumental music was either dance music or transcriptions of vocal pieces. But in the early 17th century composers began to write independent instrumental music, and this had a considerable influence on the standard and the character of instrumental playing.

One direct result was the increase in technical virtuosity, which was impossible as long as transcriptions of vocal music were performed. The instrumental writing also became more idiomatic, which means that composers started to explore the features of specific instruments. It was in particular the violin which developed into one of the most fashionable instruments. Various Italian violin players/composers moved to other countries and this way disseminated their art. In Germany it was more appreciated than anywhere else, and during the 17th century the German-speaking regions developed into a centre of violin playing.

The compositions of some of the most brilliant violinists, like Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, are pretty well documented. But there are also some composers which have been given less attention. One of them is Johann Paul von Westhoff. Only recently Gunar Letzbor recorded the Sei Partite à violino senza basso accompagnato. These refer to a German specialty: music for violin solo. Very little music for violin without accompaniment is known from other countries in Europe in the baroque period. In her recording of this kind of repertoire Mira Glodeanu shows the development in this field, going from some of the earliest pieces, by Biber and Von Westhoff, to the works for solo violin by Bach and Pisendel.

In the works of Von Westhoff and Biber the Italian style - theatrical and virtuosic - was combined with the German tradition of counterpoint. Both composers made use of polyphony through double, triple and even quadruple stopping. The other two composers on this disc, Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Georg Pisendel, added elements of the French style.

The Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001-1006) by Bach have been played well before the emergence of the historical performance practice. But the 17th-century repertoire for violin has been largely ignored, which is understandable as it is hard to imagine a convincing performance on modern instruments. Mira Glodeanu was born in Romania, and although 'pre-classical' music was given some attention during her musical education it didn't appeal to her, as the developments in the performance of early music were not noticed. It was only after meeting some exponents of the historical performance practice, like Jordi Savall, William Christie and Sigiswald Kuijken, that she started to explore the music of the 17th and 18th centuries. She studied with Sigiswald Kuijken and now is participating in performances of prominent early music ensembles.

Some time ago I reviewed her recording of Bach's Sonatas for harpsichord and violin (BWV 1014-1019), which she performed with Frédérick Haas at the harpsichord. In my view there was much to enjoy, but in the end I wasn't really satisfied. I am much more impressed by this disc with music for violin solo. The disc ends with a really wonderful performance of Biber's Passacaglia in g minor, which ends the collection of the Rosenkranz-Sonaten. The Partia IV in C by Johann Paul von Westhoff receives an engaging interpretation.

The Sonata in a minor by Johann Georg Pisendel is a most peculiar piece. It starts with a movement which is untitled in the manuscript, but is here referred to as a 'prelude'. That is certainly appropriate as it has much in common with the keyboard preludes of in particular the North-German school, written in the stylus phantasticus. It is a piece characterised by great rhythmic freedom, giving the impression of being improvised. In her performance Mira Glodeanu explores this character brilliantly. The second movement is an allegro, and the last two movements a giga with variations. This reflects the French influence in Pisendel's oeuvre, as the variations are comparable with the 'double' in French keyboard suites. (Anton Steck has devoted a whole disc to sonatas by Pisendel, including this Sonata in a minor.)

I have often noticed a difference in the performances of music by Bach and compositions by other composers. It seems to me some interpreters are so full of awe for Bach's music that they don't dare to perform it with the same panache and boldness they show in their interpretation of other music. I can't help feeling the same here. Whereas the Partia IV in C by Von Westhoff and the Sonata in a minor by Pisendel are receiving quite dramatic performances, with strong dynamic accents, the chaconne from Bach's Partita in d minor (BWV 1004) is much more moderate in this respect, and as a result isn't very captivating.
The same happens in the opening adagio from the Sonata No. 1 in g minor (BWV 1001). Fortunately the next movements are better, and the fugue is beautifully played, in a truly speechlike manner, with excellent articulation. The siciliana and the closing presto are also given good performances.

Despite some reservations in regard to Bach I am really impressed by this disc. The repertoire is intriguing, the performance generally really good. Therefore I don't hesitate to recommend to anyone with a special interest in the music for violin of the baroque era.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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Mira Glodeanu

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