Hellendaal: “Cambridge” Sonatas

Johannes Pramsohler, Gulrim Choï, Philippe Grisvard
Audas Records ADX13720

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Pieter Hellendaal’s immigration to England in 1751 from Rotterdam, after a period of training in Padua, comes at the end of a long period which saw continental composers, and in particular violinists, flocking to London. Whether Hellendaal found London already too crowded with musicians and therefore competitive for his taste, he continued into the provinces, coming to rest in Cambridge, which seems to have suited his nature much better. Either due to his provincial environs or through natural inclination, his surviving music is rather conservative for its time and two sets of violin sonatas (published in Amsterdam in the 1740s) and a set of Concerti Grossi (1758), judged to be the equal of Handel’s and bold and confident compositions indeed (available on Channel Classics CCS3492), must have seemed a little ‘old hat’ as the 18th century advanced. A later set of Cello Sonatas (1780) shows little concession to modernity. The present sonatas, the first six of a set of eleven preserved in manuscript in Cambridge, are imaginative and display a thorough understanding of the violin. Perhaps living and working in Cambridge allowed Hellendaal to ‘do his own thing’ rather than being overshadowed by the growing reputation of Handel in London. These performances are wonderfully expressive, and soloist Johannes Pramsohler’s virtuosic violin playing is sympathetically supported by his excellent continuo team. There is a feeling that this is music at the end of a long and noble tradition, but it constitutes a rich, late flowering of a school of violin playing and composition, which had begun in Italy more than a century previously and spread so fruitfully throughout Europe. These are all world premier recordings, and perhaps provide a gateway into the composer’s neglected oeuvre – I note with sadness a lost clarinet overture and a clarinet trio.

D. James Ross

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