musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Enlightened Virtuoso"

Zbigniew Pilch, violin

rec: Sept 21 - 22, 2015, Warsaw, Witold Lutoslawski National Forum of Music (Red Hall)
CD Accord - ACD232-2 (© 2015) (70'13")
Liner-notes: E/P
Cover, track-list & booklet

Federigo FIORILLO (1755-c1823): Caprice in E flat, op. 3,32; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Rinaldo (HWV 7) (Lascia ch'io pianga (arr. Zbigniew Pilch)); Ivan KHANDOSHKIN (1747-1804): Sonata in g minor, op. 3,1; Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840): Capriccio in E flat, op. 1,23; Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694-1758): Assagio à violino solo in c minor (BeRI 310); Friedrich Wilhelm RUST (1739-1796): Partita in d minor

Sources: Federigo Fiorillo, Etude pour le violon formant 36 caprices, op.3; Nicolò Paganini, 24 Caprices, op. 1, c1805; Ivan Khandoshkin, Trois Sonates, op. 3, c1807

In the course of history not that many pieces have been written for violin without accompaniment. A list in Wikipedia shows that the largest part of the repertoire dates from the 20th century. In the 19th century such pieces were mostly intended for educational purposes. That also goes for the Etude Op. 3 by Federigo Fiorillo, which comprises 36 capriccios. This set is not included in the Wikipedia list, nor are the three sonatas by Ivan Khandoshkin and the 15 Assaggi by the Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman.

The latter has become best known for his flute sonatas, which have been recorded several times. However, Roman was educated as a violinist and oboist. It seems likely that he published sonatas for the flute, because that instrument became increasingly popular during the first half of the 18th century, especially among amateurs. The Assaggi could well have been written as study material, either for himself or for pupils. The word assaggio means 'taste', or - in this case probably more fitting - 'sample'. The Assaggio in c minor recorded here follows the model of the Corellian trio sonata. It is in four movements and opens with a grave. The next three movements come without tempo indications. Pilch opted for allegro, siciliano and presto respectively. Roman was a composer on the brink of the traditional baroque style and new developments. In his flute sonatas we find elements of the style we associate with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and in this piece for violin solo the galant idiom manifests itself.

In his liner-notes Pilch states that the Partita in d minor by Friedrich Wilhelm Rust "is one of the first pieces drawing on the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach and is a kind of conglomerate of solo violin sonata and partita." It can hardly surprise that he was influenced by Bach. According to his autobiography he was able to play Bach's Wohltemperirtes Clavier from memory at the age of 16. He also copied the trio sonata from Bach's Musicalisches Opfer. I don't know how Rust called his work; his work-list in New Grove mentions two sonatas, and we should note that the term partita was out of fashion in Rust's time. Whatever it was called, its structure clearly points to the past. It opens with a grave, which is followed by a fugue. Next comes a gigue which is repeated after the ensuing ciacona and then again after the courante which closes the piece. Another traditional trait - and a telling connection to Bach's solo violin works - is the important role of counterpoint. At the same time Rust makes use of techniques which developed later in the 18th century, such as the use of flageolets and pizzicato played with the left hand. The latter can be heard in the closing movement.

Ivan Khandoshkin was the greatest Russian violinist of his time. For most of his life he was connected to the court in St Petersburg. His extant oeuvre is small. In addition to three sonatas for violin solo he composed several sets of variations on Russian folk tunes. Pilch notes that it was not until the 20th century that Russian composers started to write for violin solo again. That makes Khandoshkin's position quite unique. It is hard to understand, that these pieces have received so little attention. It seems that only one recording of all three sonatas is available (Naxos, 2006), but performed on a modern or modernised instrument. The Sonata No. 1 in g minor comprises three movements: marcia (maestoso), allegro assai and andante con variazioni. The variations are used to demonstrate the techniques developed in the late 18th century. This piece gives us some idea of the composer's skills. The first movement includes an episode with quick alternations between high and low notes, whereas the second has a strong forward drive and includes frequent chordal playing.

The two capriccios were certainly inspired by the (in)famous capriccios which Pietro Antonio Locatelli included in his set of solo concertos op. 3. They were clearly intended as showpieces for virtuosic violinists and could be omitted, if the performer found them too complicated. In contrast, Fiorillo's capriccios were written for pedagogical purposes as the title of his op. 3, Etude, shows. He was first educated on the mandolin and later turned to the violin. As a violinist he performed across Europe, for instance in Poland, St Petersburg and at the Concert Spirituel in Paris. In his activities as a composer he served those music lovers who liked popular stuff, such as divertimentos and arrangements of popular songs. About 200 works from his pen are known. The Caprice No. 32 opens with a cantabile episode and then becomes increasingly virtuosic. Whereas Fiorillo is hardly known, Paganini is very much a household name, although representatives of historical performance practice have almost completely avoided his concertos and chamber music. His Caprices op. 1 belong to his best-known works and have been recorded a number of times, also on period instruments. The Capriccio No. 23 is dominated by octave glissandi. The first composer to prescribe glissandi was Carlo Farina (c1600-c1640), but it was only at the end of the 18th century that it became a common technique.

Undoubtedly this is a most intriguing recital of pieces which - with the exception of Paganini - are very seldom played, if at all. From the angle of repertoire this is a highly important release. In addition, the music is of fine quality, without exception. Roman's Assaggio is an impressive piece from the baroque era. As far as I know only Jaap Schröder recorded a few of Roman's Assaggi, as long ago as 1986. So it was about time a violinist paid some attention to this part of his oeuvre. Khandoshkin's sonata and Rust's partita are both very fine works, which deserve a place in the standard repertoire for solo violin. The two capriccios are probably less interesting from a musical point of view, but give us some insight into the development of violin technique in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

These aspects are reasons enough to strongly recommend this disc. An additional reason is Zbigniew Pilch's interpretations. He shows an impressive technique and it is understandable that he plays in some of the best baroque ensembles of our time, such as Concerto Copenhagen. His interpretation is outstanding; he brings every single piece to life and reveals its individual qualities. This is violin playing of the highest order. As an encore he plays his own arrangement of Handel's famous aria Lascia ch'io pianga from Rinaldo. That is very well done; you certainly haven't heard it this way, but you definitely will enjoy it.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

CD Reviews