It seems we are in the middle of a 'Pisendel renaissance'. For it can hardly
be a coincidence that over a period of just a year and a half
no less than three recordings of music by Johann Georg Pisendel
have come my way. Only a couple a months ago I reviewed a recording
with compositions by Pisendel, played by Anton Steck (violin)
and Christian Rieger (harpsichord). Early in 2003 a recording
of some of Pisendel's sonatas by the British ensemble Il Serenissimo
was released. Now Martina Graulich and a group of continuo players
present another recording which features Pisendel, generally
considered the greatest violinist in Germany in the time of
Fortunately these three recordings, notwithstanding the inevitable overlapping,
are complementary. Whereas Anton Steck recorded some pieces
which only recently could be identified as being composed by
Pisendel, both Il Serenissimo and Martina Graulich present Pisendel's
music within a historical framework. Il Serenissimo throws light
on Pisendel's time in Italy, with some sonatas by Albinoni and
Vivaldi, two composers Pisendel became acquainted with his stay,
whereas Ms Graulich confronts Pisendel's music with compositions
by his German contemporaries.
If one compares Pisendel's works with the other items on this disc, it becomes
very clear how much he was ahead of his contemporaries. Without
exception his sonatas are technically much more demanding than
the other compositions played here. During a short period he
took composition lessons from Johann David Heinichen, and one
may assume that the Sonata in c minor has been played by Pisendel.
Technically it is a much easier piece than his own works, but
it is good to have a specimen of Heinichen's compositions for
the violin. They are hardly ever played.
Another example of a rather uncomplicated work is the Sonata in B flat by
Johann Adolf Hasse, whose main activity was in the field of
opera. Only a handful of chamber music pieces are known, which
are definitely composed by Hasse. This sonata is written in
a strongly vocal style: the violin is treated like the human
voice. It is definitely the least 'German' piece on the programme.
A strange work is the anonymous Sonata in E flat, in which the scordatura
technique is applied. This was strongly favoured by Heinrich
Ignaz Franz von Biber, who died in 1704. It must have been written
some time after Biber's death though, considering the fact that
it contains a 'modern' minuet. Unfortunately the liner notes
don't tell us where the piece comes from, and why it has been
included in this programme.
As far as the interpretations are concerned, I was not very happy with the
performances of Il Serenissimo. Anton Steck, on the other hand,
does full justice to the stylistic Pisendel's peculiarities.
Martina Graulich's approach is comparable to Anton Steck's,
but unfortunately she can't quite meet the technical requirements.
Ms Graulich audibly struggles with the material and therefore
her performance draws too much attention to the technical complexity
of the music at the cost of its content. In particular in the
first and last movements of the Sonata in D - both with the
tempo indication 'allegro' - the technical demands are such
that Ms Graulich produces a rather scratchy sound. Apart from
that the last 'allegro' is too slow. Another unsatisfying movement
is the 'allegro' from the Sonata for violin solo. One gets the
impression that so much energy is put into getting the piece
straight that nothing is left to give a real interpretation.
If one wants to hear Pisendel's music in full glory, Anton Steck's recording
is the first choice. This recording can be recommended nonetheless.
It is in confrontation with his contemporaries that Pisendel's
greatness comes out. And in the less demanding items Ms Graulich
and her colleagues give very convincing and eloquent performances.
In particular the sonatas by Heinichen and Hasse and the keyboard
sonata by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach are realised very well.
by Em Marshall