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"1717 - Memories of a Journey to Italy"


rec: Feb 5 - 8, 2018, Bunnik, Oude Dorpskerk
Snakewood Editions - SCD201801 (© 2018) (62'19")
Liner-notes: E/ES
Cover & track-list

Tomaso ALBINONI (1669-1751): Sonata in B flat (So32); Giuseppe Maria FANFANI (?-c1757): Sonata in D; Antonio Maria MONTANARI (1676-1737): Sonata in e minor; Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755): Sonata in E; Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753): Sonata in A; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) / Johann Georg PISENDEL: Sonata in G (RV 25)

Javier Lupiáñez, violin; Inés Salinas, cello; Patrícia Vintém, harpsichord

The most brilliant performing musicians of the 17th and 18th centuries are today first and foremost known as composers. One can think here of the likes of Biber, Vivaldi, Locatelli, Leclair or Marais. It is a bit different with Johann Georg Pisendel: he has left a rather small oeuvre, and his compositions are not the main reason for his fame. His reputation is founded on two other pillars. Firstly, it was under his direction that the court chapel in Dresden developed into one of the best of its kind in Europe during the second quarter of the 18th century. The famous statement of Charles Burney about the Mannheim court chapel, that it was "an army of generals", also applies to the Dresden court chapel under Pisendel. Secondly, he was an avid collector of music, and in particular the Italian repertoire of his time, and as a result the library of the court chapel is one of the richest sources of instrumental music, and only the second largest source of music by Vivaldi in Europe. For many pieces this library is the only source.

The present disc is a tribute to this great man, to whom we owe so much brilliant music. Some of that music was written for him or at least inspired by him. The programme includes music which he had in his baggage when he returned from a trip to Italy in 1716/17, in the retinue of the Prince-Elector of Saxony, the later King Augustus III of Poland, who made a grand tour as part of his education. The first stage was Venice, where Pisendel became acquainted with two of the greatest violinists and composers of their time: Vivaldi and Albinoni. Vivaldi was clearly impressed by the young violinist from Germany. Whereas Pisendel wanted to study with and learn from him, Vivaldi seems to have considered him a colleague rather than a student. He offered him several of his sonatas; whether these were specifically written for him or whether Vivaldi dedicated to him some of his sonatas he had written before, is hard to say. At least the Sonata in G (RV 25) seems to be the direct fruit of their encounter, as it includes a slow movement (grave) in the hand of Pisendel. Vivaldi constructed his sonata in such a way that this movement appears exactly in the centre.

Whereas Vivaldi was famous for his pyrotechnics - and sometimes criticized for them, for instance by Giuseppe Tartini - his colleague Tomaso Albinoni was very different. Michael Talbot, the most knowledgeable expert of Italian music of the early 18th century, stated about him: "In the past, the undemonstrative nature of Albinoni's musical personality has puzzled some commentators. (...) Today, the subtle elegance and lack of exaggeration in Albinoni's music comes across, rather, as a positive feature essential to his musical personality" (in the liner-notes to a recording of violin sonatas). Albinoni was educated not only as a violinist but also as a singer, and this could explain the lyricism in many of his sonatas, including the one recorded here. The Sonata in B flat is one of three he dedicated to Pisendel. In the liner-notes it is observed that "in the second movement, marked Allegro, we find an unusual and virtuoso use of triple stops in a fast semi-quaver rhythm." It is noted that this technique is also used in the Dresden version of a violin concerto by Albinoni, and from that we may conclude that it was a special tribute to Pisendel's skills. Talking about this, let's not forget that multiple stopping was a feature of the German-Austrian violin school, of which Pisendel was a representative, and was far less often used in Italian violin music.

Whereas the contacts between Pisendel and the two Venetian masters is well documented, also on disc, his sojourns in Rome and Florence are far less known. The music related to these stages of his trip are the most interesting parts of this recording. In Rome he met Antonio Maria Montanari, who acted as Corelli's successor after the latter's death, but who until recently was hardly more than a marginal figure in the discography. Recently Johannes Pramsohler and his Ensemble Diderot recorded some of his violin concertos, which are impressive testimonies of his qualities. The same goes for his Sonata in e minor, which has come down to us in a copy in Pisendel's hand. It is in three movements, of which only the first is given a tempo indication (largo). It takes the place of a prelude, and the two next movements have the character of a corrente and a minuet respectively. The Sonata in E by Pisendel further documents the close contacts between the two men, as it includes corrections by Montanari. It is only recently that this sonata in four movements has been authenticated as a piece by Pisendel. It is perfect example of a mixture of Italian and German features.

Montanari was held in high esteem, and one of the tokens of this is the Sonata in A by Giuseppe Valentini, which has the title La Montanari. Valentini was another Corelli pupil, and regularly played in his orchestra. This sonata was also in the baggage of Pisendel, and the liner-notes suggest that it may have been a gift by both composers to Pisendel. If that was indeed the case, it is further proof of the impression Pisendel made on those who met him. It is a beautiful sonata in five movements, and, like Montanari, Valentini is a composer, who deserves much more attention that he has received to date.

Giuseppe Maria Fanfani is undoubtedly the least-known composer in the programme. I can't remember ever having heard his name, and in New Grove only three lines are spent to him. It ends with this assessment: "His 12 surviving violin sonatas (...) are of inferior quality." In the liner-notes we read: "Pisendel refers to Fanfani as a rival to Vivaldi, when he compares the musical life of Florence and Venice in his memoirs, although we should not take this rivalry in negative terms, but rather as a reference to an artist who could stand alongside the great Vivaldi himself". From that we may conclude that there is no reason to pass judgement on Fanfani as in New Grove; Pisendel knew about quality probably more than anyone else. It is hard to assume that an apparently very skilled violinist could have written inferior sonatas. The Sonata in D is not one of that set of twelve and was only identified a few years ago. It is in four movements, the first of which includes some double-stopping.

From this description one may conclude that this is a most interesting disc. It is a worthy tribute to a man to whom we owe a lot, not only because of his activities as a music collector, but also because he apparently inspired the composers he met, and who wrote music for him. The performances are notable for several things, one of them being the practice of improvisation. The addition of ornamentation is a common aspect of modern performance practice of baroque music, but here the performers have taken a step further by adding variations of their own. That is the case, for instance, in the Sonata in G by Vivaldi, where the closing menuet with one variation is extended by an additional variation by Javier Lupiáñez. The same happens in the closing movement of Montanari's Sonata in e minor, where he adds even three variations. These are all inspired by material close to the composers, and from that perspective this has to be considered an interesting feature, which, according to the liner-notes, was common at the time. It is certainly an aspect which deserves further research.

I am very impressed by this disc, not only because of the way the programme has been put together, but also the quality of the music selected for this recording and the way it is played. The performances are technically impeccable, stylish and imaginative. The phrasing and articulation are excellent, and there is a nice dynamic shading. The ornamentation is generous, but never exaggerated.

Recently I have reviewed several outstanding discs with baroque violin music, and this is another one lovers of the baroque violin should definitely not miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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