Andrew Manze / Richard Egarr / Fred Jacobs

G.A. Pandolfi Mealli: Violin Sonatas

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These sonatas for violin and continuo, dating from the court of the Holy Roman Empire in Innsbruck in 1660, are little known; perhaps the only other recording of them is a later one by their champion, Andrew Manze. If you like the woolly world of seventeenth century violin music, this composer belongs in your library. The later recording, which includes all the sonatas, lacks the theorbo heard in this 1992 performance, presumably reissued by Channel Classics in order to compete with Harmonia Mundi's release, but both are superb. The music's neglect is largely due to Pandolfi Mealli's obscurity; nothing is known of him beyond this group of works -- not even whether a Sicilian composer named Pandolfi working around the same time was the same person or not. The music speaks for itself, however. You can think of it as a missing link between the instrumental music of the early Baroque and the wildly original and virtuosic violin music of Biber, Schmelzer, and the other figures of the Austrian-German Baroque violin, eventually including Bach. Pandolfi (as he is known) yields nothing to Biber in terms of sheer virtuosity. The music is made up of short, sharply contrasting chunks, but its most distinctive feature is a strong tendency toward harmonic experimentation. Try out the first work on the album, the Violin Sonata, Op. 3/2 ("La Cesta"), wherein the violin part rhapsodically cycles through a set of harmonies that in one passage sound for all the world like blues. Every piece has something eye-opening, and the interpolated anonymous short suites for solo harpsichord give the listener a needed break from the intensity. Andrew Manze, whose Biber recordings are also highly recommended, makes a superb case for this music, which has the feel of something intellectual yet intimate and outrageous -- of music composed for a circle of connoisseurs (each sonata has a nickname that seems to refer to a single individual). He has just the right combination of brilliance and subtlety. The early '90s sound has held up well, and all in all anyone who has jumped on the Biber bandwagon should give this disc a try.

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