pisendel concertos berlin

Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755)
Fanfare (anonymous)
Violin Concerto in D major
Sonata in C minor
Violin Concerto in B flat major
Imitation des caracteres de la Danse
Violin Concerto in E flat major
Sinfonia in B flat major
Violin Sonata in D major
Concerto Köln/Mayumi Hirasaki (violin)
rec. 2021, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln, Germany
Berlin Classics 0302808BC [72]

More often than not, when I review a disc of Baroque instrumental music by a lesser-known composer, it is because my colleagues with expertise in the area have elected to pass on it. Usually, the outcome is a pleasant listen to some unmemorable and unexceptional music. Infrequently, one is rewarded when the music and performances are excellent: such is the case here.

You will see from his dates that Johann Georg Pisendel was a close contemporary of Bach and Handel. His musical education was that of the Italian school, despite his formative years all being spent in Germany, at the court of Brandenburg-Ansbach. This was due in most part to the presence of Giuseppe Torelli as concertmaster for the Margrave’s orchestra. While still a student, Pisendel became concertmaster of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, which brought him to the attention of the Dresden Court orchestra, one of the finest in Europe. He was engaged there at the age of twenty-four, soon rising to the post of concertmaster.

The disc begins with a brief horn and timpani fanfare (not by Pisendel, it is anonymous), which leads directly into the splendidly grand orchestral opening to the D major concerto. The concerto is scored for horns, oboes and bassoons, plus an added part for timpani (based on 18th century practice and using a similar Vivaldi concerto as a guide). All this makes for a very substantial and impressive work, a world away from the anodyne concertos of Mauro D’Alay I recently reviewed. Even the two other concertos, more conventionally scored for strings only, have a variety and élan that makes them stand out from the crowd; the E flat has some Vivaldi-like character.

The two-movement C minor Sonata comprises a Prelude and Fugue, the former slow and stately, a striking contrast after the grand D major concerto that precedes it (and an example of the thought that has gone into the programming). The Fugue is a sparkling delight, elevated by the two oboes. The French-inspired Imitation des caracteres de la Danse is thought to be modelled on a similarly named work by the Versailles composer Jean-Féry Rebel. In four and a half dizzy and dazzling minutes, it works its way through eight dances, scored richly with oboe, flute, drums and tambourine. I will simply say that the remaining two works – the Sinfonia and Violin Sonata – are of equal quality, and leave you to discover their delights by yourself.

This music, good as it is, could not have shone without the wonderful contributions of Concerto Köln and concertmaster/soloist Mayumi Hirasaki. The sound quality is very good, and the booklet notes are very informative.

One curiosity about the disc is the Greek letter π which dominates the cover. Yes, the Anglicised version matches the first two letters of Pisendel’s name, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t his nickname and the booklet certainly doesn’t refer to it, so I’m left to assume that it was simply an attempt by the cover designer to be clever. Another less than successful design decision was the inclusion of two pages with a very vivid yellow-green background with white text – not at all easy to read.

But this is not enough to detract from what is a resounding success and a breath of fresh air. One of my Recordings of the Year to be sure.

David Barker

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