GIOVANNI ANTONIO PANDOLFI MEALLI: Violin Sonatas of 1660, Op. 3 & 4 – Mark Fewer, violin/ Myron Lutzke, cello/ Kenneth Slowik, harpsichord – Friends of Music 36-802, 73:30 [www.smithsonianchambermusic.org] ****:
Pandolfi, as he is known—thank goodness, because I didn’t want to type that name over again—is actually unknown to the music world aside from the few works that have appeared under his name. His life dates are a mystery also, only that he probably died between 1660-69, and that he was a musician at the court of the Archduke Ferdinand Karl of Austria, who we know reposed in 1662 and was the dedicatee of the Opus 4 here recorded. Anything else we garner about him must be taken from the times he lived in, or the music itself.
This was the time of the great expanding of violin technique, and of its ideal of copying the human voice, which was said at the time to be the most perfect instrument with which to attempt the same emotional fervor that the voice could muster. The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher had defined this new method of expression as stylus phantasticus, and the vehicle for this type of playing was to be found in fantasias, ricercars, toccatas, and sonatas. The latter is nothing as we know today after centuries of predefined classical-era works, but instead a hybrid of many shorter contrasting movements. A sonata then held closer to the original Italian meaning of “to sound”, not so much a formal device as an expressive one. In Germany at the time there was a whole host of composers deeply involved in bringing the excessive merits of the violin to fruitfulness, names like Schmelzer, Biber, Walther, Westhof, and a little later, Bach. But evidently Pandolfi’s music, as referenced by a 1901 tome on 16th-18th century Italian music, even at that late date was considered “…acrobatic to the extreme, and they are the most difficult among those [violin sonatas] that we have seen so far. But whatever their contribution to the advancement of instrumental technique, they bear witness to a time of degradation of taste.”
I guess taste is relative to the period it finds itself in. But I will agree that there is the element of the fantastic in this music, though I find it quite enthralling, and melodically gripping. Technically it sounds like a bear to play, and our Smithsonian friends do a yeoman’s job in presenting it with such skill and authority (all three of these folks are quite renowned in their fields) and are to be commended for such brilliant readings. If you like any of the aforementioned composers of the formative years of the violin, you are bound to like this as well. The sound is nicely done, and I can think of few things to be improved upon.
But don’t wait for a second volume with the Opus 1 and 2 on it—apparently it was lost in 1665 when the boat carrying it capsized at the mouth of the Inn River and the Danube.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich