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George Frederick PINTO (1785-1806)
Sonata for Piano and Violin No 1 in G minor (c. 1806) [19:79]
Sonata for Piano and Violin No 2 in A major (c. 1806) [19:26]
Sonata for Piano and Violin No 3 in B flat major (c. 1806) [18:06]
Kenji Fujimura (piano)
Elizabeth Sellars (violin)
rec. 2 and 3 July 2015 and 16 February 2016 Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music Auditorium, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
First recordings

George Frederick Pinto has variously been described as one of the major ‘what-ifs’ of music history. He was a child prodigy both as a performer on piano and violin, and as a composer. In his particularly short life, before dying probably from tuberculosis, his gifts, especially for inventive and attractive melody allied to solid craftsmanship, would certainly suggest he was as talented as a number of his better-known contemporaries.

He was baptised at St Mary’s Lambeth, London, as George Sanders. His father died prematurely and it was from his mother, Julia (née Pinto) that he took not only his surname, but also his musical upbringing. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Pinto (1714-c.1780) was a well-known London violinist who had fled to England for political reasons, and was the son of a civil servant to the King of Naples. One of George Pinto’s fellow-students was Irish composer John Field, with whom he became good friends. As well as sharing with him a love of J.S.Bach, Pinto dedicating a sonata to Field. In appraising Pinto’s contribution, it is useful to take note of these connections and influences, and, perhaps, just to bear in mind the words of German impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who was instrumental in bringing Haydn to London, who, at the time of Pinto’s death, commented: “If he (Pinto) had lived and been able to resist the allurements of society, England would have had the honour of producing a second Mozart”. Whether the three Violin Sonatas recorded here support Salomon’s appraisal, they should, at least, be on a par with similar works from the likes of Clementi, Dussek and Field.

The Sonatas were among Pinto’s last works, and were published posthumously by his mother. As their description suggests they are still conceived as sonatas for piano, with violin accompaniment, which was standard practice until the fully-fledged sonatas of the mature Mozart and Beethoven appeared on the scene, and where the two instruments were effectively equal protagonists in the action. Pinto tends to reserve the lower register for the violin, so as not to compromise the technical prowess of the pianist, generally playing in the upper and more dazzling part of the range. All three sonatas follow the same pattern of a brisk opening sonata-allegro, followed by a slow movement, and then a closing rondo finale. Indeed there is effectively little real contrast in the tempo indications, save for the slow movements, which range from the slower ‘Adagio sostenuto e legato’ (Sonata 1) and ‘Adagio affetuoso e con sentimento’ (Sonata 3) to the slightly brisker ‘Andante’ of the middle Sonata. All that distinguishes the three opening movements is the addition of ‘e spirito’ to ‘Allegro moderato con espressione’ in the Third Sonata, while the finales are titled ‘Rondo: Allegretto grazioso, ‘Rondo: Allegro con brio’, and ‘Rondo: Allegro moderato’ respectively.

The First Sonata opens with a jaunty, dotted-note theme, which leads into a smoother second subject. In fact, this is the only time when the violin gets first say. Pinto gives his thematic material a good work-out in the ensuing development, which then leads effectively to a conventional recapitulation. Throughout, the piano has most of the action, with some impressive work in the left hand. Pinto chooses the submediant key (E flat major) for his gentle slow movement. While the modulations and major-minor juxtapositions that seem commonplace in Schubert aren’t heard here as such, Pinto’s writing is certainly looking in the same direction and, would no doubt have developed further, except for his untimely demise. Equally there is a forward-looking romanticism here, albeit somewhat embryonic, yet confined within a sense of classical restraint – another Schubertian fingerprint in the offing. The finale starts straight in the tonic major (G major) and there is an interesting rhythmic feel to the main theme. Likewise the episodes have a distinct character, and make some good use of contrapuntal technique in the ‘fugato’ sections, where chromaticism is also a feature. Once more there is a definite Schubertian feel to Pinto’s use of key juxtaposition – Paul Conway’s most helpful sleeve notes inform the listener that this is the only movement of the sonatas actually to include an internal key-signature change – three times, in fact, as it runs its course.

The Second Sonata opens with a lyrical passage from the piano, and the ghost of Schubert seems all the more present, with the song-like melodies. Even the conventional trill heard just before the exposition is repeated, is not how Mozart would have done it – Pinto is his own man here. If there isn’t quite the tautness in the writing, when compared with the first sonata, it still holds together well and, whenever the tonality turns minor, this seems momentarily to bring out the most inventive from the composer, and something which can be seen later in the works of the Viennese master, as well, of course, in Pinto’s G minor Sonata. Again, the slow movement has a decidedly simpler feel to it than its predecessor, but is nevertheless attractive enough for the purpose. The rondo finale has more of the humorous feel, perhaps, of Haydn, and also shares one of that composer’s recognised traits – where a lot of the movement’s thematic material is derived just from the opening material, rather than specifically through-composed. But there’s sufficient fun here and enough variety to hold the listener’s attention right to the very end. The second episode does seem to start by appearing to offer something different, but this is soon dispelled as the rondo theme returns, leaving a short, yet effective coda to rounds things off.

As mentioned above, the tempo indication for the Third Sonata’s opening gambit adds the instruction ‘e spirito’ to the mix. Whether the ‘and with spirit’ here suggests a lesser emphasis on things expressive, concentrating more on the vigorous nature of most of the writing, the result is still cohesive, and the frequent, business-like short trilled-phrases, are still countered by moments where sentiment predominates. Again, and there is a Schubertian parallel, who similarly appeared able to write some of his happiest-sounding music while knowing that he was quite close to death, as Pinto himself was. The following slow movement is a much more intimate affair again, full of expressive moments, and particularly the middle section – where the tonality has temporarily shifted to the minor again. The rondo is amiable enough, with some interesting harmonic twists and turns, and it becomes increasingly noticeable that both violin and piano are now virtually on equally footing. Again there is a palpable sense of major and minor juxtapositions, before the movement ends in high spirits from both players.

The recording is well forward, and captures both instruments successfully, ever mindful of, and sympathetic to the importance of balance in these types of early violin sonatas, where roles aren’t as clearly defined as in later examples of the genre, and can change from section to section. My only slight reservation is with the violin-playing itself, where occasional notes appeared swooped at, in the manner of a glissando or slide, rather than as a well-judged portamento, of the kind singers are so used to employing, where they achieve the same effect, but in a seemingly more artistic fashion.

This still emerges as an interesting and, of course, unique compilation, and if Pinto’s output was sadly cut short before even reaching his prime, then the next best thing is at least to record as much of his extant repertoire as possible. I am confident that the Toccata label has this in mind – and hopefully in hand, too, as the New Year unfolds.

Philip R Buttall

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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