1717: Memories of a Journey to Italy

Snakewood SCD201801
Works by Albinoni, Fanfani, Montanari, Valentini and Pisendel/Vivaldi

In the 17th and 18th centuries if you were a musician wanting to keep up with the latest musical trends your social networking involved rather more than going to your computer or smart phone. It meant a physical trip to the musical centre of the world: Italy. It is, of course, what Handel and many others did. Among their number was the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel of the Dresden Court Orchestra, whose trip to Italy took place in 1717 as one of a number court musicians (including Zelenka) accompanying the opera-mad Prince-Elector of Saxony. During a trip that took in Venice, Rome and Florence, Pisendel, already one of the greatest violinists of the age, made contact with many leading musical figures. Principal among them were Albinoni and Vivaldi (with whom Pisendel established a lasting friendship) in Venice, Antonio Montanari (another great violinist, who became the successor to Corelli as leader of the famous Rome orchestra) and Giuseppe Valentini in Rome, and Giuseppe Maria Fanfani in Florence.

All the above are represented on this fascinating CD of sonatas for violin and continuo in which Scaramuccia chart Pisendel’s Italian journey, the works chosen either having a direct or close relationship with the German virtuoso. Thus Albinoni’s four-movement Sonata in Bb not only bears a dedication to Pisendel, but, as Scaramuccia’s violinist Lupiáñez points out in his scholarly notes, also includes unusual features such as triple-stopping that suggest that Albinoni may well have composed the sonata with Pisendel’s virtuosity in mind. Most fascinating of all in this respect is Vivaldi’s Sonata in G, RV 25. Also dedicated to ‘Maestro Pisendel’, Vivaldi left the slow movement for his new friend to fill in, which he did with a lovely serene Grave movement for violin and harpsichord (rather than continuo). This hugely entertaining sonata opens with a bucolic Allegro and includes a number of dances, ending with a Menuetto with variations left open to improvisation, here splendidly fulfilled by Scaramuccia.

It is this sense of the performers being constantly engaged with making music a spontaneous act that makes these performances so rewarding and engaging. There is throughout an evocation of a world of fantasy and bizzarie that feels absolutely right for music intended to dazzle the hearer. Listen for example to Valentini’s Sonata in A (dedicated to Montanari), composed more in the style of a suite. Here a free, extravagant, arabesque-laden opening Preludio, is succeeded by an Allemanda founded on odd glissando-like gestures, a gentle cantabileLargo for the violinist over a rippling arpeggiated accompaniment, a good-humoured Giga and a vigorous concluding Minué more redolent of countryside than court. Quite apart from the captivating inventiveness of the performances, they are technically outstanding and balanced with rare sensitivity. The odd small intonation problem apart, Lupiáñez proves himself master not only of the more virtuosic demands of the music but of also producing a warm, expressive cantabile, while he receives splendid support from Inés Salinas (cello) and Patricia Vintém (harpsichord).

Brian Robins

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