Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI
MEALLI (1629 - after 1679)
Sonate à violino solo opera quarta
Sonata I La Bernabea in e minor [8:09]
Sonata II La Viviana in a minor [6:52]
Sonata III La Monella (Romanesca) in g minor [14:31]
Sonata IV La Biancuccia in d minor [10:09]
Sonata V La Stella in d minor [6:52]
Sonata VI La Vinciolina in d minor [9:40]
Gunar Letzbor (violin)
Ars Antiqua Austria (Jan Krigovsky (violone), Daniel Oman (colascione),
Pierre Pitzl (guitar), Hubert Hoffmann (archlute), Norbert Zeilberger
rec. 14-16 March 2010, castle of Ivanka pri Dunaji, Slovakia. DDD
ARCANA A 360 [56:15]
Comparison: Andrew Manze (Harmonia Mundi)
Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli is one of those shadowy figures
in music history. His music is much better known than his life.
Until recently next to nothing was known, not even the dates
of his birth and death. But his music has received much attention,
as it belongs to the very best of what was written for the violin
in the 17th century. It is only recently that research by the
music historian Fabrizio Longo has brought to light some facts
which allow us to position Pandolfi Mealli in his time.
Pandolfi Mealli was born in 1629 in Montepulciano in Tuscany.
Not long after his birth the family moved to Venice, where his
stepbrother sang as a castrato in San Marco. In the 1650s Pandolfo
Mealli - the latter name he took from his stepfather - entered
the service of the Princess de' Medici in Innsbruck. He gave
up his job in 1660, and after that we meet him again in 1669.
In that year a publication of instrumental pieces was printed
in Rome, and here he is mentioned as violinist in the chapel
of the cathedral of Messina on Sicily. He left Messina after
an incident in which he killed a castrato singer and fled to
Spain. There he started working as a violinist in the Capilla
Real of Madrid. He must have died not long after 1679.
Only three collections of music from his pen are known. The
most famous are the twelve sonatas which were published as his
opp. 3 and 4 respectively, each comprising six sonatas. Nothing
is known about opp. 1 or 2. These could have been lost or -
as Andrew Manze in the liner-notes of his complete recording
suggests - they may never have existed, and the designation
as 'opus 3' and 'opus 4' was a way to show off. The third collection
is the one referred to above, but some musicologists have doubted
whether the composer is identical with Pandolfi Mealli: they
are much more moderate in style and the composer is only referred
to as 'Pandolfi', without the addition of 'Mealli'. It seems,
though, that the research of Fabrizio Longo rather confirms
All sonatas of both collections bear names which mostly refer
to musicians from his time, some of whom were Mealli's colleagues
in Innsbruck. Whether these are intended as a kind of musical
portrait is impossible to say. It could well be that by giving
his sonatas a title which is derived from their names Pandolfi
Mealli wanted to pay respect to his colleagues. The Sonata
I La Bernabea is probably dedicated to Ercole Bernabei,
who worked as an organist in Rome, the city where this opus
was printed. Antonio Maria Viviani is the dedicatee of the Sonata
II La Viviana. He was an organist, singer and composer.
In Innsbruck he acted as organist, chaplain and secretary of
the Archduke and became superintendent of chamber music in 1660.
Sonata III La Monella is dedicated to the alto castrato
Filippo Bompaglia, nicknamed 'Monello'. Before and after his
time in Innsbruck he sang in operas in Rome and Venice. This
sonata is based on a famous basso ostinato, called Romanesca.
Another castrato is the dedicatee of the Sonata IV La Biancuccia:
Giovanni Giacomo Biancucci. The Sonata V La Stella is
not dedicated to a musician, but rather a clergyman: the Father
Superior of the Cistercian monastery of San Giovanni Battista
in Perugia, Benedetto Stella. The fact that the op. 3 also contains
a sonata dedicated to him suggests Stella was important to Pandolfi
Mealli. The title of Sonata VI La Vinciolina refers to
a lady with the name of Teodora Vincioli. Her identity hasn’t
yet been established.
These sonatas are not only remarkable for their technical qualities,
but also on account of their character. By using various playing
techniques and daring harmony Pandolfi Mealli achieves lavish
expressive qualities. The sonatas comprise various sections
each of strongly contrasting character. As a result they have
a clear dramatic trait. In his performance Gunar Letzbor aims
at exploring this feature of the sonatas. He takes the slow
movements at an often very slow pace, whereas the fast movements
are mostly played at high speed. He also tries to maximize the
often sudden shift from slow to fast. That is all praiseworthy,
and makes his interpretation quite compelling. Unfortunately
he tends to go a little overboard. The first movement of the
Sonata III is an extreme example. The first section takes
no less than 11:18 - Manze needs just 6:33 for the whole sonata.
Letzbor's basic tempo is very slow, and there is no variation
in pace within this first section. In comparison Manze creates
strong contrasts by playing the written-out trills of demisemiquavers
much faster just like the passage with triplets. I find that
more convincing than Letzbor's approach which seems unnaturally
slow. There are also quite long pauses between the sub-sections,
and the passages for the basso continuo alone are overstretched.
Because of the contrast which Letzbor wants to create he uses
various combinations of instruments in the basso continuo. That
makes sense, but I don't think the scoring of the bass part
needs to change within a sonata. It is perfectly possible
to realise these contrasts with just one instrument in the basso
continuo. Manze's recording proves this - with Richard Egarr
on the harpsichord - but also Martha Moore (Syncoop, 1992),
who is accompanied by a theorbo (played by Joris Loeff). The
dynamic outbursts in the continuo, in particular if the archlute
and the guitar are used as percussion instruments, seem exaggerated.
The playing of Gunar Letzbor is admirable, and in many ways
I prefer his performance of the violin part to Manze's. That
said I find it hard unequivocally to recommend his recording
because of the exaggerations in the tempi and the realization
of the basso continuo. The liner-notes contain the latest information
about the composer as well as an analysis of the six sonatas
by Herbert Seifert, who teaches musicology at Vienna University.
The 'Observations from the podium' by Gunar Letzbor are interesting.
Johan van Veen