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Pieter Van Maldere: "Sinfonie"

The Academy of Ancient Music
Dir: Filip Bral

rec: Oct 20 - 21, 2000, St.-Truiden, Academiezaal
Et'cetera - KTC 4036 (R) (© 2010) (58'47")
Liner-notes: E/F/N

Sinfonia a 4 in Fa; Sinfonia in Aa; Sinfonia in g minor, op. 4,1 [1]; Sinfonia in D, op. 5,1 [2]

Sources: [1] 6 sinfonie a pił strumenti, op.4, 1764; [2] 6 sinfonie a pił strumenti, op.5, 1768

Pavlo Beznosiuk, Pauline Nobes, violina; Rachel Byrt, violaa; Thomas Pitt, celloa; Paula Chateauneuf, theorboa

When music historians describe how the music aesthetic of the baroque era gradually made way for that of classicism the name of Pieter Van Maldere is seldom mentioned. In his own time he was considered a pioneer of the newest trends in music, in particular in the development of the symphony. Marc Vanscheeuwijck begins his programme notes with a quotation from the Swiss lexicographer Johann Georg Sulzer: "The symphonic allegros of the Netherlander van Maldere can be considered to be models of this genre of instrumental music; they possess all the afore-mentioned characteristics, and testify to the greatness of this composer, whose untimely death has robbed art of many more masterpieces of this kind".

Pieter Van Maldere was the third of ten children of a schoolmaster in Brussels. Little is known about his musical education, but it is likely he started as a boy singer in the chapel of Charles of Lorraine, prince and governor of the Austrian Netherlands. It is possible that Henri-Jacques De Croes, who became first violinist of the chapel in 1744, was his teacher at the violin. A document of 1746 mentions Van Maldere among the second violinists of the chapel. In 1749 he became the leader of the orchestra. Charles of Lorraine was clearly impressed with Van Maldere's capabilities as he promoted him as much as possible. The good personal relationship allowed him to make concert tours, for instance to Dublin. Here he directed the Philharmonick Concerts. He also appeared at the Concert Spirituel in Paris where his performances met praise in the Mercure de France: "This virtuoso has a beautiful bowstroke, much precision, and ways all his own. His is a great talent". Later in his career he developed into a kind of private musician to the prince. He was able to compose and publish his music, and also became involved in theatre productions, to which he contributed compositions of his own.

But it was first and foremost his contribution to the genre of the symphony which constitutes his historical importance. Marc Vanscheeuwijk mentions several of the formal aspects of his symphonies. For instance, the first and last movements of his mostly three-movement symphonies show an early sonata form. Contemporaries noted especially the liveliness of the bass part. Johann Adam Hiller wrote about the symphonies opus 4: "What specifically distinguishes them from other symphonies, and makes them uncommonly brilliant, is the hardworking bass, which is always in motion, whether producing excellent imitation or strongly supporting and animating the most artistic unity". The symphonies are also notable for their melodious character, often suggesting the influence of folk music. The fast movements have infectious rhythms and there is an unmistakable connection to the diverting music of the time. The two last symphonies on this disc are especially noteworthy in this respect. They are played here with single strings: two violins, viola, cello and theorbo. I don't know - and the liner-notes don't tell - whether the composer himself required this scoring. It would be interesting to hear them with a larger ensemble, but the performances with one instrument per part work quite well.

This is not the first disc to have been devoted to music by Van Maldere. I know of at least one recording of four symphonies by the Collegium Instrumentale Brugensis, on modern instruments, probably dating from the 1980s (the disc, which appeared on the small label Eufodia, doesn't mention the date of recording). The present recording was originally released in 2001 by the classical channel of Belgian public radio, and hasn't received that much attention, as far as I know. Although the previous recording is quite good and gives a good impression of Van Maldere's qualities, these performances by The Academy of Ancient Music, playing on period instruments, is definitely superior. They strike the right chord as far as the character of the music is concerned. The melodies are beautifully played, the slow movements have a maximum of expression, and the fast movements are sparkling and full of life. This disc is a great effort of all participants. I would like to hear more of Van Maldere's symphonies.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

The Academy of Ancient Music

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