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Pieter HELLENDAAL (1721-1799)
“Cambridge” Sonatas
Sonata No. 2 in A [11:08]
Sonata No. 3 in d minor [10:23]
Sonata No. 4 in D [13:14]
Sonata No. 1 in A [08:27]
Sonata No. 5 in C [13:58]
Sonata No. 6 in D [11:08]
Johannes Pramsohler (violin)
Gulrim Choļ (cello)
Philippe Grisvard (harpsichord)
rec. 2018/19, SWR Studio, Kaiserslautern, Germany
AUDAX ADX13720 [68:40]

Question: what connects Dick Whittington, Mike Ashley and Pieter Hellendaal? I’ll put you out of your misery – they all decided to seek fame and fortune in London and in Hellendaal’s case also in the provinces like ‘Cambridge’.

Born in Holland, he later travelled to Padua where he got to know and study with Tartini. In London, he was an orchestral member in a performance of Acis and Galatea by Handel, oddly enough moving later to King’s Lynn. These sonatas are to be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, however, where his virtuosity was also on display. So it’s a rare joy that these six sonatas, out of a set of eleven, have been brought together in this quite luxurious presentation, in impressive performances and in an ideal recording.

There is much variety within these six sonatas in format and melodic interest. Their date of composition, it seems, cannot be pinned down but c.1770 or so seems likely and they may well have been composed for pupils. For example, Sonata No1 ends with a Minuet (Allegretto) Sonata No 3 with a ‘Pastorale’ in rondo form and also in triple time but marked with an elegant melody supported by mini-drones and pedal points. Each Sonata has a Largo or Adagio first movement but sometimes two Allegros follow or an Andante, or, as in the case of the four movement Sonata No 6, a pithy Tempo di Gavotta. Several sonatas have short violin cadenzas between movements and the first sonata has one for the harpsichord. Sonata No 5 has something approaching bird song in its opening movement and the first movements of Sonatas 2, 4 and 6 seem like written out improvisations, played, incidentally, precisely as written.

Hellendaal is certainly a conservative composer with his inspiration more from the generation of Corelli, but had he stayed in London meeting up with the likes of J.C. Bach and even Haydn, he might have been a part of the early classical world and it is for that reason that he has been overlooked - it is certainly not for the quality of the music. Invariably, composers who are not in the immediate forefront of musical activity but allow themselves to work out in the provinces do not get the exposure they deserve and can even be dismissed as amateurs. But Hellendaal, in addition to being one of the finest violinists of his day, was no mean composer whose sonatas recorded here are up the highest standard of interest possible for any Englishman of his generation. We are therefore very much in the debt of Pramsohler, Choļ and Grisvard for their diligence in searching out this highly attractive music. Look out especially, I’ve been told, for their earlier disc ‘Bach and Entourage’ (ADX137030)

The instruments are a violin of 1713 from the studio of Pietro Rogeri (d.c.1740) of Brescia, a cello of the mid-18th Century and a harpsichord after the Belgium maker Pascal Takin (d.1793) by Matthias Griewisch. The overall sound is bright and clear and wonderfully balanced but the keyboard could sometimes be a little more forward. The booklet essay by Pramohler himself is, unsurprisingly, informed and informing.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: Johan van Veen

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