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Dmitry Sinkovsky, violin
Il Pomo d'Oro

rec: Sept 1 - 6, 2016, Lonigo (I), Villa San Fermo
Naïve - OP 30576 (© 2019) (77'28")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Concerto in D, op. 7,2 [2]; Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764): Concerto in D, op. 3,1 [1]; Johann Georg PISENDEL (1688-1755): Concerto in g minor (JunP I,1); Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770): Concerto in a minor 'a Lunardo Venier' (D 115); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Concerto in B flat (TWV 51,B1)

Sources: [1] Pietro Antonio Locatelli, L'Arte del Violino - XII Concerti cioè violino solo, con xXIV Capricci ad libitum, op. 3, 1733; [2] Jean-Marie Leclair, Six Concerto a tré, violini, alto, e basso, op. 7, 1737

Emiliano Rodolfi, Olga Marulanda, oboe; Michele Fattori, bassoon; Elena Davidova, Ayako Matsunaga, Heriberto Delgado, Fani Vovoni, Barbara Altobello, Claudio Rado, violin; Enrico Parizzi, Daniela Nuzzoli, Giulio d'Alessio, viola; Ludovico Minasi, Irene Liebau, cello; Marco Locicero, double bass; Chiara Granata, harp; Ivano Zanenghi, theorbo, guitar; Federica Bianchi, harpsichord

The title of this disc inspired the author of the liner-notes, Jean-Michel Molkhou, to discuss the phenomenon of the virtuoso. He states that a virtuoso is more than "a performing monkey, one who can only flourish under the limelight, and cannot penetrate to the spiritual heart of the music". Instead, "[in] definition and usage, the word 'virtuoso' means an unchallenged master not only in the field of musical technique, but also that of artistic quality." The (pejorative) meaning of the word has its origin in the 19th century, when performing musicians travelled across the world, showing off to an adoring audience. The virtuosos of that era were mostly not composers themselves; they performed the pieces others had written, sometimes especially for them. Some of them did not bother to play pieces which today are considered little more than garbage. That was very different in earlier times.

The 17th and 18th centuries had their virtuosos as well. They excelled on, for example, the organ during services (such as the representatives of the North German organ school) or on instruments as the cornett, the trumpet or the violin. Some of them are still known today: the wind player Dario Castello, the violinists Biber and Schmelzer, and in the early 18th century, Bach's trumpeter Reiche and the lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss. Often only incidental visitors of a church or a court noticed the skills of a player. The girls of the Ospedale della Pietà were invisible for those attending their performances, but they made a strong impression nevertheless. In the course of the 18th century, the phenomenon of the public concert emerged, and as a result, virtuosos became known to a wider audience.

However, at that time, many virtuosos were also composers, and they usually wrote their virtuosic solo concertos for their own use in public concerts. That also goes for the composers represented here, with Georg Philipp Telemann as the most notable exception. By his own account, he was not a virtuoso on the violin (or on any other instrument, for that matter), and his concertos were probably not intended for his own use. That certainly goes for the Concerto in B flat included here, which is one of his most challenging solo concertos. The autograph has been preserved, which says: "Concerto grosso, for Mr. Pisendel, from e, G.P. Telemann, 14 Sept. 1719". At that time, Telemann was in Dresden to witness the musical festivities at the occasion of the wedding of the Saxon Prince Elector Friedrich August I and the Austrian archduchess Maria Josepha. The work was performed in Dresden with a large ensemble, and its character suits the splendour of the occasion.

Pisendel was the leader of the Dresden court chapel, one of the best in Germany and widely admired. He was the typical product of the German violin school, but was also strongly influenced by contemporary Italian music. During a sojourn in Venice, he had become personally acquainted with Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni, who offered him some of their own compositions. On his return to Dresden, Pisendel had many Italian pieces in his luggage, and continued to collect music by Italian composers, in particular Vivaldi. He was much admired for his skills as a violinist and as a leader of the chapel, bringing discipline into an ensemble of players from across Europe. It seems that he did not feel the need to compose much music himself. His extant oeuvre is rather small. The full title of the Concerto in g minor is 'Concerto à 5 da Chiesa'; the addition da chiesa refers to the fact that it comprises four movements modelled after Corelli's sonate da chiesa: largo e staccato, allegro, largo, allegro. However, the title seems also to be an indication that this concerto was intended for a performance during the liturgy: in the Catholic chapel, instrumental music could be played instead of a sung Gradual or Offertorio. The score includes parts for a pair of oboes, which play colla parte with the violins.

The three other composers were known across Europe as performers. Especially Pietro Antonio Locatelli made a name for himself as such. For most of his life, he lived in Amsterdam, where he acted as a performer, composer and teacher. His set of twelve violin concertos Op. 3, which were published with the title L'arte del violino, is considered as probably the most challenging collection of music for the violin of the first half of the century. That is especially due to the addition of capricci in the fast movements, which are extended cadenzas, that have been compared with Paganini's Caprices Op. 1. Undoubtedly, Locatelli played them during his own performances, but they are ad libitum, meaning that lesser-skilled performers can omit them. If there is any performer of the baroque era, who shows some similarity with the romantic virtuoso, it is Locatelli, also because he was not exactly modest about his own capabilities, and certainly wanted to be admired.

Giuseppe Tartini was rather the opposite. He was one of the main advocates of a 'natural' style of composing and performing. His views with regard to instrumental music were not fundamentally different from those of Christoph Willibald Gluck in the field of opera. Tartini was strongly influenced by literature, in particular poetry. He usually read from the writings of Metastasio, Petrarch or Tasso before starting to compose. Quotations from these writings are often included in his manuscripts. This poetic inspiration is reflected in his concertos, which are dominated by lyricism and expression of a rather introspective kind. That comes especially to the fore in the middle movements in a moderate or slow tempo, which are usually the longest. That is also the case in the Concerto in a minor: the timings of the three movements are 4'57", 7'22" and 3'36". The first movement is divided into two alternating sections, with the indications andante cantabile and allegro assai respectively. The concerto has the addition a Lunardo Venier, the dedicatee of this concerto.

Lastly, France is represented by Jean-Marie Leclair, who was the first true violin virtuoso of French birth. He was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Somis of Turin. This resulted in Leclair's preference of a mixture of French and Italian elements in his music, although he always took some distance to what he considered extreme features of violinistic virtuosity. In order to become a better composer Leclair took lessons from André Chéron, a harpsichordist who regularly accompanied him at the Concert Spirituel. In the dedication of his op. 7, published in 1737, Leclair specifically mentioned Chéron saying that "if any beauty may be found in this work, I credit it to the expert lessons I received from you". These "expert lessons" included harmony and counterpoint. The result was that Leclair wasn't only celebrated as a virtuoso violinist but also ranked among the best composers of his time. His concertos Op. 7 were the first of its kind in France; they were printed in 1737 and were followed in 1745 by a second set of six concertos (Op. 10). The Concerto in D included here is the only one, in which the first movement is preceded by a slow introduction; it is followed by a fugal tutti. The prominent role of the second violin is also noteworthy.

It is interesting to listen to this series of five concertos by composers from different parts of Europe. In the first half of the 18th century, concert life was an international affair, and many composers moved across the different countries of Europe, integrating what they heard. Other ways of getting acquainted with what was written and performed elsewhere were contacts with colleagues, for instance in a court orchestra (the Dresden chapel is a good example), printed editions and handwritten copies. Even so, they mostly followed their own path, as this disc shows. There is a clear difference in style between, for instance, Locatelli and Tartini, who represented different aesthetic ideals, and between Locatelli and Leclair, who not only composed differently, but also had different ways of playing the violin, as reports of a direct confrontation between the two indicate. Telemann and Pisendel then represent another part of the European musical landscape.

All of this comes off well in these performances. Dmitry Sinkovsky is a brilliant violinist, whose performances are energetic and full of zest, but he also delivers excellent performances of the more lyrical sections of these concertos. He probably uses a bit more vibrato than most of his colleagues, but it is hardly disturbing and it didn't spoil my enjoyment of this disc. Il Pomo d'Oro is his perfect partner, which sets the right accents and plays with much sensitivity in the slow movements.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Dmitry Sinkovsky
Il Pomo d'Oro

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