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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]
Since the last decades of the 17th century, England saw an influx of performing musicians and composers from overseas, mostly from Italy, but also from other countries, such as France, Germany and the Netherlands. From the latter country, two have become well-known: Willem de Fesch and Pieter Hellendaal. The latter was active as organist and violinist and settled in London in 1751.
He was born in Rotterdam in 1721, where his father Johan worked as a pastry baker and later as a candlemaker. In 1732 the family moved to Utrecht. Here Pieter was appointed organist of the Nicolaikerk, despite being just ten years of age. It is not known, who had been his teacher. His father seems not to have been a musician, although he must have had a thorough knowledge of the organ, as he was asked to do some repair work at the organ of the Nicolaikerk. In 1737 Pieter resigned as organist, as the family moved to Amsterdam. Here he may have become acquainted with Pietro Antonio Locatelli, the famous Italian violin virtuoso. It is not known who taught him the violin, but he must have been accomplished at the instrument, as - thanks to the support of Mattheus Lestevenon, secretary of Amsterdam - he was allowed to go to Padua, to study with the famous Giuseppe Tartini, somewhere between 1737 and 1744.
Tartini did not take that many students, as he wanted to be able to pay enough attention to anyone of them. The fact that he accepted Hellendaal as one of his students, is further evidence that Pieter's skills must have been far above average. Nine sonatas from his pen have been preserved in collections of pieces connected to Tartini, and these are identical with sonatas from the two sets which he published as his Op. 1 and Op. 2 in Amsterdam, shortly after his return. There he started to perform as a violinist in public.
In January 1749 Hellendaal enrolled at Leiden University. There he once again performed as a violinist and from time to time replaced the organist of the Pieterskerk. However, as apparently he did not succeed in obtaining a fixed position, which would allow him to support his family, he decided to move to London, where he arrived in late 1751. Between 1752 and 1754 Hellendaal's name is regularly mentioned in concert announcements in the newspapers. He came into contact with Handel, and played a violin solo between the two acts of Acis and Galatea in a performance in 1754. In 1758 Hellendaal published a set of six concerti grossi as his Op. 3, which show the influence of Handel. Again, it seems that he failed to find a position as organist or as violinist in an orchestra.
For a short while he acted as organist at St Margaret's Church of King's Lynn in Norfolk, as successor to Charles Burney, who thought the salary was too low. Hellendaal may have had the same considerations when he left his post after only a short time. In November 1762 he was appointed organist of the Pembroke Hall Chapel in Cambridge. There he remained for the rest of his life, working as a violinist, teacher and music publisher, and selling musical instruments. In 1763 he played the violin in a performance of Handel's Messiah. In 1777 he was appointed organist of the Peterhouse Chapel. He published a set of violin sonatas (Op. 4) and a collection of eight cello sonatas (Op. 5). Further printed editions include sonatas for keyboard, violin and cello and a rondo for violin and basso continuo. Hellendaal also composed some vocal music, both sacred (Psalms and Hymns) and secular (canons and glees).
The present disc focuses on a set of eleven sonatas that has been preserved in manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Hellendaal's printed sonatas are technically quite demanding, but here he goes some steps further, for instance in the frequent use of double stopping and the exploration of the highest positions at the violin. Some sonatas even include written out cadenzas, which are not unlike the Capricci in Locatelli's L'Arte del Violino.
The sonatas are different in texture. The Sonata No. 2 in A and the Sonata No. 6 in D are in four movements, in the conventional order, whereas the other sonatas comprise three movements in the order slow - fast - fast, which had become the standard in many parts of Europe in the mid-18th century. The opening slow movements of three sonatas (2, 4 and 6) "were for me models for improvised embellishments in 'arbitrary manner', so that I left hardly a single note untouched", Johannes Pramsohler writes in his liner-notes. The Sonatas 3 and 4 include the long and virtuosic cadenzas I referred to above. In the Sonata No. 5, Hellendaal goes to the highest positions in the second movement, whereas in the third and last movement, he also explores the lower end of the violin's tessitura.
These pieces may be technically brilliant and a perfect vehicle for a performer to demonstrate his skills, but they are more than that. They are also satisfying from a purely musical point of view. One of the highlights is the lovely Pastorale which closes the Sonata No. 3 in d minor. Here Hellendaal applies double-stopping virtually from start to finish, but all in the interest of expression. It is also thanks to Pramsohler that the listener's attention is drawn to the music instead of the technical challenges to the performer. And let's not forget the engaging support of Gulrim Choļ and Philippe Grisvard, who do more than just accompany the violin. This disc is a strong candidate for my list of recordings of the year.
All the sonatas appear here for the first time on disc. Considering their quality, this release is of major importance. I would like to add that Antoinette Lohmann and her ensemble Furor Musicus have recorded two of the Cambridge sonatas not included here, as well as a selection of sonatas from the Opp. 1, 2 and 4 (Globe 5271).