Monday 26 March 2012

CD Review - Pisendel: Violin concertos from Dresdenn

Pisendel - Violin Concertos from Dresden

Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688 - 1758) - Concerto in D major for violin, flutes, oboes, strings and basso continuo, FWV L:D8
Johann David Heinichen (1683 - 1729) - Concerto in A minor for violin, strings and basso continuo
Georg Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759), arr. Pisendel - Sontata for orchestra in F major, HWV 392
Georg Phhilipp Telemann (1681 - 1767) - Concerto in B-flat major for violin, strings and basso contino, Pisendel Konzert, TWV 51:B1
Johann Georg Pisendel (1687 - 1755) - Concerto in G major for violin, horns, oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo

Johannes Pramsohler (direction/violin)
International Baroque Players
Recorded 27-30 April 2011, St Michael's Church, Oxford
RAUMKLANG LC05068 1CD [58.08]

18th century Dresden must have been a dazzling place, both visually and aurally. Under Augustus the Strong and his successors, all the arts were used for Electoral display. So one might marvel at the Electoral art collection, the architecture of the Zwinger, the Meissen china, the treasures in the Grünes Gewölbe, the operatic performances, the music at court and in the Royal chapel. The orchestra, the Dresden Hofkapelle, was one of the largest and finest in Europe, with first class musicians in all sections, so that the group specialised in the con molti stromenti style where multifarious instruments came forward for solo moments, neither strictly a solo concerto nor a Corelli-style concerto grosso.

The orchestra was led, from 1728, by Johann Georg Pisendel, a fine violinist (as the solo parts for this disc testify) but also a fine orchestral trainer and a networker who managed to acquire a wide range of music for the Dresden orchestra, now preserved in the Saxon State Archives.

Vivaldi's concertos for Dresden are well known and received fine recordings on Naxos in 1995. Now this disc from Johannes Pramsohler  and the International Baroque Players showcases a variety of other composers who wrote for Dresden; of the 5 pieces on this disc, 4 are world premiere recordings. The group open with the Concerto in D major by Johann Friedrich Fasch. A relatively short, compact work, it opens in bouncey, lively style with pairs of flutes and oboes competing with the solo violin. In the middle Andante the solo violin part intertwines expressively round the flutes and oboes.

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The Concerto in A minor by Johann David Heinichen is an altogether different affair, closer to Vivaldi with just a solo violin and strings. The 4 movement work opens with a striking largo et staccato which leads into an Allegro where a dramatic string unison figure is contrasted with the brilliant solo part. An elegant Affettuoso follows with an Allegro finale which has quite a bit of rhythmic interest in the opening ritornello. The solo violin part is quite brilliant and superbly played by Johannes Pramsohler, but Heinichen is perhaps slightly too reliant on schematic arpegiated chords.

Handel features quite significantly in the Dresden music library with collections of overtures and suite movements that were probably used as ballet music. The Dresden Library also holds copies of the 3 Trio Sonatas. The Sonata in F also exists as an arrangement by Pisandel for ensemble with oboes and bassoons doubling the strings. Pisandel inserted extra movements so that the piece could be broken up and played with a church service; the International Baroque Players record only Handel's movements.

Playing chamber music orchestrally can be a great challenge, one that obviously reflects the standard of the original Dresden orchestra. Here Johannes Pramsohler and the International Baroque Players also respond brilliantly with playing that is infectiously invigorating.

Telemann visited Dresden in 1719 and gave Pisendel a concerto grosso. The title refers more to the substantial solo violin part rather than to any idea of a Corellian  concerto grosso. Telemann's Concerto in B flat, his Pisendel Konzert, was obviously designed around Pisendel's considerable technique and is one of the most substantial of Telemann's violin concertos, here quite superbly handled by Johannes Pramsohler. It opens with a singing largo followed by a dazzling Vivace. the 3rd movment, marked sempre piano, has a beautifully singing top line and the Allegro finale fairly dances along.

The final work on the disc is a concerto by Pisendel himself, his Concerto in G major for violin, horns, oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. This shows off Pisendel's own skills on the violin and has some nice effects with the multiple instruments.

The playing by the International Baroque Players is clean and crisp, it is playing which makes you pay attention and vividly brings the music to life. The group impressed when we heard them at a private concert last Autumn, before the Brighton Early Music Festival, and I'm pleased to say that this disc confirms my live impression of the group. They are technically confident and show off in the music in just the right way.

The International Baroque Players was founded in 2009, originating out of the European Union Baroque Orchestra and the Britten-Pears Baroque Orchestra. This CD is their recording debut, a confident and striking disc, intelligently interesting programming, played with style and brilliance. Highly recommended.

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