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Arcangelo Corelli and his influence

[I] "Corelli, Telemann, Leclair, Handel, Albicastro"
Johannes Pramsohler, violin; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord
rec: Feb 15 - 17, 2013, Cologne, Studio Stolberger Straße
Audax Records - ADX13700 (© 2013) (65'22")
Liner-notes: E/F/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Henricus ALBICASTRO (c1660-c1730): Sonata in g minor, op. 5,6 'La Follia' [2]; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata in D, op. 5,1 [1]; George Frideric HANDEL (1695-1759): Sonata in D (HWV 371); Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Sonata in f sharp minor, op. 9,10 [4]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonata in A (TWV 41,A4) [3]
[N.B. The tracklist erroneously has the Sonata in e minor, op. 9,6 by Leclair. That is corrected in the header.]

Sources: [1] Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo op. V, 1700; [2] Henricus Albicastro, Sonate, op. 5, 1703; [3] Georg Philipp Telemann, Musique de table (2. Production), 1733; [4] Jean-Marie Leclair, Quatrième livre de sonates, op. 9, 1743/R

[II] Michael Christian FESTING (1705 - 1752): "Violin Sonatas"
Brandywine Baroque
rec: [n.d., n.p.]
Plectra - PL21403 (© 2014) (57'34")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata in c minor, op. 1,2 [1]; Sonata in B flat, op. 1,7 [1]; Sonata in D, op. 1,8 [1]; Sonata in G, op. 1,9 [1]; Sonata in g minor, op. 7,6 [2]; Sonata in G, op. 8,1 [3]

Sources: [1] 12 Solo's, op. 1, 1730; [2] 6 Solos, op. 7, 1747; [3] 6 Solos, op. 8, c1750

Martin Davids, violin; John Mark Rozendaal, cello; Karen Flint, harpsichord

Does a recital of sonatas for violin and basso continuo need some justification? Apparently Reinhard Goebel thinks so. In the liner-notes to Johannes Pramsohler's recording he reminds the reader that once the music world was very much acquainted with the phenomenon of the recital for violin and piano. In such recitals which find their origin in the 19th century, even some baroque sonatas found their place, mostly heavily arranged into some romantic showpiece. It is partly due to the emergence of historical performance practice that "the traditional violin recital 'from Biber to Bartók' passed away once and for all, and all the grandiose individual pieces and sonatas of the Baroque - with the exception of Bach's solo sonatas as 'audition pieces' - disappeared from the violin curriculum". I wonder whether Goebel is a little too optimistic - if that is how his words have to be interpreted, as some nostalgia shines through in the last sentence. There are certainly some remote parts of the world where the traditional violin/piano recital, including 19th-century arrangements of baroque repertoire, still exists. Even in Europe and America, where historical performance practice has become more or less the standard in the interpretation of pre-romantic repertoire, one can still hear some reminiscences of a time long gone.

In his essay Goebel also seems to criticize the tendency to record complete collections of sonatas which "[offer] rather light fare together with magnificent art". This is an interesting matter of debate; I am glad that today such complete recordings give us the opportunity to judge for ourselves what is "light fare" and what "magnificent art" rather than leave that to the interpreters. That is not to say that there is anything against a violin/basso continuo recital as Johannes Pramsohler and Philippe Grisvard are offering here.

From the angle of historical performance practice it is not so easy to perform a programme with pieces by, for instance, Biber, Vivaldi, Couperin and Handel in once recital on the stage. Part of historical performance practice is the awareness of differences in style and - what is especially relevant here - differences in the instruments which are needed for the most 'authentic' interpretation. That goes especially for the kind of harpsichord the interpreter of the basso continuo part needs. The music on this disc is from Germany, Italy, France and England, but there is probably less of a contrast between the pieces selected for this recording than one may think. The programme opens with the first sonata from Corelli's op. 5, a set of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo. This sets the tone for this recital: these five sonatas have not been thrown together at random. Telemann, Leclair, Handel and Albicastro were all influenced by Corelli in one way or the other.

Returning to the issue of the choice of instruments: Philippe Grisvard plays the copy of a two-manual Italian harpsichord from the late 17th century. That is a very appropriate instrument for Corelli, but probably much less so for Leclair, Telemann and Handel. That attests to the limitations of a recital of music from different countries.

Telemann didn't like virtuosity for its own sake. That is the reason he kept his distance from the Italian solo concerto. His music was also first and foremost intended for the Liebhaber, the (good) amateurs of his days. That is not to say that he didn't write music which is technically demanding. The Sonata in A is a good example; the very fact that it includes double-stopping indicates that it is not "light fare". It was part of the collection in three volumes, Musique de table which received much interest from the best musicians of his time, including quite a number of composers, such as Handel, Quantz and Blavet. Telemann didn't hide his admiration for the Italian master as his Sonates Corellisantes attest.

Jean-Marie Leclair started his career as a dancing master, but then decided to devote himself to the violin. He received lessons from the Giovanni Battista Somis in Turin who was a pupil of Corelli. Especially in his later works the influence of Corelli is unmistakable; these are also technically demanding. The Sonata in f sharp minor from the fourth book, published as op. 9, is a telling example of Leclair's brilliant style. These sonatas certainly also reflect his own skills which in his time were compared with those of the then most brilliant violinist, Pietro Antonio Locatelli.

Handel is one of the most frequently performed composers and his sonatas for recorder or transverse flute rank among the most popular chamber music of the baroque era. The same cannot be said of his violin sonatas. They are available in several recordings but I have hardly ever heard them in live concerts. Why that is the case is hard to say. A lack of musical value can't be a reason. It could well be that there are so many violin sonatas to choose from that most violinists simply overlook them. The Sonata in D (HWV 371) which dates from around 1750, and is the latest of his sonatas for violin. It contains various borrowings from previous vocal and instrumental compositions. As most sonatas on this disc it follows the model of the Corellian sonata in its sequence of four movements.

The exception is the Sonata in g minor, op. 5,6 by Henricus Albicastro, a composer whose name hardly ever appears on discs or concert programmes and about whom we don't know very much. He was of German origin but has also been labelled as a Swiss composer. He lived for some time in the Netherlands. His sonatas are clearly in the Italian style but are also rooted in the German tradition. It was a nice idea to use this sonata to close the programme: it comprises a series of variations on La Follia, and various composers ended their collections of sonatas the same way, not the least Corelli himself in his op. 5.

Johannes Pramsohler is a young and brilliant violinist, "born in South Tyrol, thus compulsorily endowed with Italian citizenship, yet bound and obliged to the German language", as he describes his identity in the booklet. This could well explain that he seems to feel very much at home in this repertoire. His style of playing reminds me of Reinhard Goebel's, and he also plays one of the instruments Goebel used for many performances and recordings. This is not Pramsohler's first recording; before he recorded violin concertos by Pisendel which I haven't heard. Recently I reviewed a disc of his Ensemble Diderot with trio sonatas which are part of the archive of the court in Dresden and I was very impressed with the interpretation and the style of playing. This disc is of the same standard. It should be of interest even to those who have most of the pieces in the programme already in their collection. There is a good chance that they don't have anything by Albicastro, though.

One of Corelli's most famous pupils was Francesco Geminiani. He arranged his teacher's sonatas op. 5 as concerti grossi. One of his own pupils was the English violinist Michael Christian Festing, and it is not surprising that Corelli's influences shines through in his sonatas as well. In this respect the second disc links up with the first in showing the far-reaching influence of the master from Rome.

Although born in London from English parents it is suggested that the family had its roots in Germany; the family name also points in that direction. Festing was educated as a violinist and played a major role in English music life. He was a member of the Academy of Ancient Music and later set up the Apollo Academy, together with his friend Maurice Greene. In 1738 he was one of the founders of the Fund for the Support of Decay'd Musicians and their Families, later known as the Royal Society of Musicians; for many years he acted as honorary secretary.

Festing composed a number of vocal works, including many songs, but the main part of his oeuvre comprises sonatas for his own instrument. These are often technically demanding which comes to the fore in his use of double stopping, arpeggios, leaps across multiple strings and even ricochet bowings. The second movement from the Sonata in g minor, op. 7,6 is an example of the latter. The influence of Corelli comes most clearly to the fore in the sonatas op. 1 whose texture is modelled after the latter's sonatas; they are a mixture of the sonata da chiesa and the sonata da camera. In his later works Festing turns to the galant idiom; an example is the Sonata in G, op. 8,2 which also seems considerably less virtuosic than the other sonatas. Double-stopping only appears in the closing menuet.

Festing is a largely unknown quantity; I can't remember having heard any music by him before. This neglect of his output seems not justified if the sonatas on this disc are anything to go by. Martin Davids' performance is a passionate plea for this forgotten composer. He delivers fine performances which are technically assured; the expression in the slow movements comes off well too. As the final gavotta from theSonata in d minor, op. 1,8 is very short Davids added variations of his own. I am not sure that this is needed, but it is nicely done. It is remarkable that according to contemporaries - such as Charles Burney - Festing was not a great performer. Apparently that did not prevent him to compose some pretty good stuff. His oeuvre seems well worth being explored further.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Johannes Pramsohler
Philippe Grisvard
Brandywine Baroque

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