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"Cabinet of Wonders, Vol. 1"

Kinga Ujszászi, violin; Tom Foster, harpsichord

rec: March 14 - 16, 2020, London, Church of the Ascension, Plumstead
First Hand Records - FHR89 (İ 2020) (56'52")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Friedrich SCHREIVOGEL (SCHREYFOGEL) (fl 1707-1749): Sonata in d minor; Sonata in e minor; Sonata in E flat; Johann Joseph VILSMAYR (1663-1722): Partita (Sonata) in E flat; Gasparo VISCONTI (1683-1731): Sonata in c minor; Sonata in F

One of the blessings of our time is that many important sources of music are available digitally. Every performer interested in repertoire which is part of a particular source, can pick and choose the music he would like to play, sometimes even for free. That is the case, for instance, with the pieces which were once part of the library of the Dresden court chapel, today preserved at the Saxon State and University Library in Dresden, best known under the title of Schrank II. It not only includes the music specifically written for the chapel or by its members during its heydays, but also the compositions which Johann Georg Pisendel, leading violinist and from 1730 until his death in 1755 the chapel's concertmaster, brought together. He was in Italy for several years, where he met some of the leading composers of the time, and when he returned, he had a lot of music in his luggage. Since then he continued to collect music which he thought to be suitable for the chapel, preferably by Italian composers. It is not surprising, then, that a large part of the collection is of the pen of Italian composers. One of the lesser-known is represented in the programme that has been recorded by Kinga Ujszászi and Tom Foster.

The Dresden collection includes many pieces by composers who today are little known. That certainly goes for Johann Joseph Vilsmayr, who was a product of the violin school which had developed during the 17th century in the German-speaking world, with which the names of the likes of Biber and Schmelzer are connected. If he is known, it is mainly because of the publication of six partitas for violin without accompaniment. It is quite possible that they have inspired Bach to compose his partitas and sonatas for unaccompanied violin. Considering the fact that such music was quite rare at the time, it is rather odd that Vilsmayr is not included in New Grove. The Partita (or Sonata) in E flat performed here, is apparently his only other composition that has been preserved. It is for violin and basso continuo, and the violin part requires scordatura, which is a typical feature of many pieces of the late 17th century written in Austria and Bohemia, and which was frequently employed by Biber. The sonata comprises six movements, and in several of them Vilsmayr uses double stopping. The fourth movement is a passacaglia.

The next composer is Gasparo Visconti, who was from Cremona. He was from a noble family, which means that he did not act as a professional performer; he was what at the time was called a dilettante. From 1702 to 1706 he played as a violinist in London. The fact that he claimed to have been "five years Corelli's scholar" may have helped him to make a name for himself, as England had fallen victim to a real Corellimania at the time. He must have been a kind of celebrity among violinists. No other than Giuseppe Tartini visited him around 1713 in Cremona. One of the features of Visconti's sonatas is that he often wrote out the embellishments in the slow movements, as is the case here in the opening grave from his Sonata in c minor. As this is also the case in some of Tartini's sonatas, that may well be the result of his encounter with Visconti. The sonata consists of three movements in the order slow - fast - fast, again something we find in Tartini's oeuvre. The last movement has many melodic twists and turns, as well as dissonances and unexpected pauses. A modern trait can be observed in the four-movement Sonata in F, which ends with a minuet with variations.

The last composer on the programme was from Switzerland. Johann Friedrich Schreivogel (his last name is sometimes spelled as Schreyfogel) has no entry in New Grove, and Schrank II seems to be the only source of his compositions. At a young age he settled in Milan, where he entered the orchestra of the archduke as a violinist. As Pisendel copied some of his sonatas and concertos, the two men must have met during the German's sojourn in Italy, probably Venice, as Michael Talbot suggests in his liner-notes. The Sonata in e minor is in three movements: a grave is followed by an allegro moderato and a movement without tempo indication. Towards its end, the first movement includes a longer episode without basso continuo, in the manner of a cadenza. There is quite some double stopping in this sonata. Talbot compares the four-movement Sonata in d minor with those by Tomaso Albinoni, notable for their lyricism. The Sonata in E flat is not from Schrank II, but from a collection preserved at the University of Berkeley (California, USA). It is the latest piece in the programme, and Talbot suggests it may date from the 1730s or 1740s. He observes the influence of the Neapolitan school. One wonders whether Pisendel would have been interested in this work, as he is known to have disliked modern trends in Italian music. Schreivogel's own talent as a player once again manifests itself in the technical requirements of this piece.

It is one of the hallmarks of the pieces brought together in this programme. This is not easy stuff, and it is unlikely that the amateurs of the time would have been able to play these pieces. It was mostly the trio sonatas that were aimed at the growing market of amateurs, whereas solo sonatas were usually intended for professionals, and often written by composers/performers for their own use. Obviously, they were no problem for Pisendel, who was held in high esteem by Vivaldi. They are also no problem for Kinga Ujszászi, who frequently plays in some of the main orchestras of our time, such as The English Concert and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. I heard her the first time with her ensemble Repicco, which I rated highly. Here she plays with another partner, and in different repertoire, but she confirms in every way my impressions of that debut disc. She is a technically accomplished player and an imaginative interpreter, who is able to show why this music was appreciated by such a brilliant performer as Pisendel. She makes one realise that history is not always fair: there is no reason at all why this music is so little known and these composers are in the shadow of someone like Vivaldi. Tom Foster is an equally accomplished performer and an ideal partner in the exploration of this fascinating repertoire. Together these artists have produced a disc which deserves to be part of every collection of baroque violin music.

Johan van Veen (İ 2021)

Relevant links:

Kinga Ujszászi
Tom Foster

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