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Gaspard FRITZ (1716 - 1783): "Violin Sonatas op. 3"

Plamena Nikitassova, violin; Maya Amrein, cello; Jörg-Andreas Bötticher, harpsichord

rec: Feb 5 - 8, 2013, Nuglar-St. Pantaleon, Röm-kath. Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10295 (© 2014) (72'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Sonata in D, op. 3,1; Sonata in A, op. 3,2; Sonata in C, op. 3,3; Sonata in E flat, op. 3,4; Sonata in B, op. 3,5

It is a remarkable phenomenon that some composers are neglected for a long time and then, all of a sudden, receive quite a lot of attention. Gaspard Fritz is a good example. I had never heard of him when a disc with his sonatas op. 2 landed on my desk, in a performance by Claire Genewein. It was released in 2009; four years later a disc with sonatas from his op. 1 and some of his symphonies op. 6 was released, performed by La Stagione Frankfurt. This could well be a kind of bandwagon effect: a disc with music by a relatively little-known composer is well received, and that inspires other performers to devote themselves to his oeuvre. Don't misunderstand me: there is nothing wrong with that, certainly not if the composer's oeuvre turns out to be of excellent quality. That is certainly the case here: when I first heard his sonatas op. 2 I was enthusiastic about the music and expressed my curosity about the rest of his oeuvre. The present disc with five sonatas from his op. 3 fully confirms by positive impressions.

Fritz was a remarkable composer. His father was from Celle in Germany and had settled in Geneva in 1709 where he worked as a music teacher. Gaspard went to Turin to take violin lessons from Giovanni Battista Somis, among whose pupils was also Jean-Marie Leclair. From 1736 until the end of his life Gaspard worked as violinist and violin teacher in Geneva. He moved among the highest circles which explains the dedications of the five collections of sonatas which were printed between 1742 and 1759. The six sonatas op. 3 were dedicated to John Penn, the later governor of Pennsylvania. They were printed in Paris in 1756 (and reprinted in London in 1764) and to that end Fritz went to Paris where he also performed in the Concert Spirituel. The reception was not that enthusiastic, either because of his Italian style of playing or - and probably more likely - because of his virtuosity and free treatment of rhythm. A contemporary accused him of excessive ornamentation and a loss of rhythm.

It seems that the mixed reception reflected the change in aesthetics in his time. In his liner-notes Anselm Hartinger states that "it is difficult to classify the music of the Violin Sonatas, Op. 3 according to any stylistic guidelines of this period". That seems a correct observation; I was mostly reminded of Locatelli, another composer whose performances met a mixed reception. The similarities are a high amount of virtuosity and a strong sense of unpredictability. Whereas in much music of the period one expects a melodic line to develop in a certain way one is constantly surprised here by the way the violin part goes. It is interesting that Fritz included dynamic indications and wrote out ornamentation. Some passages have the character of written-out cadenzas. The virtuosity comes especially to the fore in the frequent use of double stopping and the changes of register. The violin regularly moves to the upper range of its tessitura.

One of Fritz's best-known contemporaries was Giuseppe Tartini who was in favour of a more 'natural' style, and was highly critical of Vivaldi's excessive virtuosity. Fritz seems closer to the latter than to the former, and from that viewpoint one could probably call him 'conservative'. Another 'old-fashioned' element is the order of the movements: only one of the five sonatas recorded here follows the 'modern' order of slow-fast-fast, whereas the others follow the model of the Vivaldian solo concerto: fast-slow-fast.

Plamena Nikitassova delivers brilliant performances, not only technically immaculate but also stylistically convincing. It is a shame that the booklet doesn't give any information in regard to performance practice, especially because the scores are not available on the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library. I am especially curious about the performance of the last movement from the Sonata in E flat, which is called aria. The theme is played by the violin without the basso continuo, the second variation opens with a harpsichord solo and the last variation is played by the violin alone again. Is this prescribed by Fritz or a decision by the interpreters?

Anyway, this is a highly compelling disc with a happy combination of excellent music and a stylish and idiomatic performance. Let us hope that the sixth sonata which couldn't find a place on this disc will be recorded by the same artists.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Plamena Nikitassova

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