, August 2011
This release is part of the ‘Birth of…’ series from Solo Musica. It aims to present some of the oldest known compositions of music for solo instruments and groupings played on the oldest available and still viable instruments. Notable is that all seven composers that make up this programme lived during the lifetime of J.S. Bach. The booklet notes state that all the scores apart from the Biber and Pisendel are receiving their world première recordings.
Clearly an important feature of the disc is the instruments used. Munich-born and bred soloist Rebekka Hartmann has chosen to play two baroque violins from Cremona. The first instrument is an early Antonio Stradivari (1675) and the second an Nicolò Amati ‘Rethi’ (1669). She uses modern stringing and a period bow for all the scores except her modern bow on the Rust Partite.
The opening score is Westhoff’s five movement Suite in A major published in 1683. From Dresden, for over twenty years Westhoff was a member of the Dresden Hofkapelle. According to Wikipedia the suite is the earliest known multi-movement score for solo violin. I was most impressed by the variety of moods that Hartmann produced in Westhoff’s Suite. The Prelude switches between a sorrowful atmosphere and the need for virtuosity, contrasted with the determined stance of the Allemande. Next comes a stately Courante, the yearning character of the Sarabande and finally a sparkling Gigue.
Biber was born in Wartenberg, Bohemia (now Strážpod Ralskem, Czech Republic) in 1644. From 1670 he settled in Salzburg in the service of Maximilian Gandolph the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. One of the most important violinists and composers in the history of the violin Biber is probably the best known of all seven composers on the disc. By far the most famous score Biber wrote was his remarkable set of Mystery Sonatas (or Rosary Sonatas) from around 1676. The final piece of the Mystery Sonatas is a Passacaglia for solo violin which Hartmann has chosen to play for this project. Primarily a meditative score the substantial G minor Passacaglia is performed with utmost concentration and assurance.
A Bavarian from Cadolzburg, Pisendel had met the great masters: J.S. Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi. He is best remembered for leading the Dresden Court Orchestra for over thirty years. Represented here by the three movement A minor Sonata I enjoyed the moody pleadings and intensity of the opening movement and the swirling sounds of the Allegro. At nearly nine minutes the substantial final Giga - Variatione abounds in variety and appealing melody.
A pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti and Corelli, Francesco Geminiani was born in Lucca, Italy. Living in London for a number of years, it seems that in 1715 he performed one of his scores at the London court of George I with the keyboard played by Handel. Geminiani is represented here by his very brief Etüde an engaging and virtuosic piece here played so adeptly.
It is thought that Nicola Matteis was born in Naples and came to England around the 1670s. Towards the end of the seventeenth century Matteis became a leading violin virtuoso in London. Lasting eight minutes in performance the Fantasia is reasonably agreeable if designed within a rather uneventful dynamic range and with little in the way of variety.
Parisian by birth Guillemain studied in Turin. Returning to Paris in 1737 Guillemain became a musicien ordinaire to Louis XV of France. Published in 1762 the single movement score Amusement pour le violon seul La Furstemberg lasts nearly eight minutes and is inventive, melodic and highly memorable.
The final score is the Partite in D minor by Friedrich Wilhelm Rust. Born in Wörlitz, Germany in 1739 Rust certainly had an impressive roster of tutors. He studied the keyboard with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, and the violin with Höckh and F. Benda, G. Benda, Tartini and Pugnani. From 1766 he made his home in Dessau, Saxony becoming established as music-director of the town’s theatre. The modern bow that Hartmann uses on the Rust Partite adds considerable weight to the instrument’s tone. Cast in five movements the Partite in D minor is an attractive score opened by a thickly-textured Grave. A buoyant Fuga precedes the lively and melodic Gigue; the Ciacona-Gigue feels especially confidently played and the concluding movement Courante-Gigue is briskly taken requiring significant virtuosity. Hartmann plays brilliantly and extremely sympathetically throughout. Her personality is engaging and I was especially impressed with the range of colours and textures she drew from these early scores.
Recorded at the Holzmühle, Seeshaupt deep in the countryside some forty km south west of Munich, the recording studio is located in what looks like the loft of a converted farm house. I found the sound quality impressive with the richly honeyed timbre of the chosen instruments most agreeable. The release on Solo Musica is nicely presented in a gatefold sleeve with an interesting and informative essay.
In reality the exposed nature of these rare baroque pieces for solo violin should appeal mainly to the specialist listener. However, the attraction of five world première recordings combined with such impressive playing makes this a valuable release.