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Pisendel: Violin Sonatas

Anton Steck and Christian Rieger perform violin sonatas by Johann Pisendel. Pisendel Sonatas Steck and Rieger are both former members of the illustrious Musica Antiqua Köln, and recorded this CD in the same studio where many of MAKs best recordings were made, at the former "West" German radio in Cologne. Too bad the microphone used was on sale, for the recorded sound here fails, somewhat, these musicians who play with passion. Pisendel was one of the star violinists to play at the Dresden court, evidently inspiring concertos by Vivaldi. So, you might expect, his own works might be challenging and full of little baroque warts. They are. The opening sonata in D is in fact so challenging to bridge into a more modern style, with a wide range in notes for the violin, sending Steck into frenetic twists where unchartered tuning curses our ears. Far more interesting is the solo sonata (without Rieger on harpsichord) in A minor, similar in scope to one of Bach's own solo violin sonatas. The recorded sound ripens for this work, too. Pisendel's writing extends the upper-range of the violin, but lacks the writing of a genius musician. Its nevertheless odd enough (maybe not to the artful degree Zelenka's works are) and irregular enough to inspire our time listening. The notes don't always go into the expected places. My favorite track is the last, a gigue with variations. The e-minor sonata starts out typically; it could perhaps be by Albinoni in its old-fashioned opening. The ending Scherzando is devilish, more Tartinian, Steck sounding more assured. The C-minor work is the most famous, for having been once attributed to J.S. Bach (complete with its own BWV number). Steck's reading is interesting up against Goebel's early recording with the other Bach sonatas. Goebel had some intonation issues in his reading, and Steck here, improves on intonation but occasionally breaks-out into an impassioned vibrato that I find starkly modern, seemingly foreign to the otherwise Baroque-sounding work. Who knows who wrote this work. It does have a certain Bachian touch, elevating the quality of the writing. This same flair is evident in the resulting work, too, a Sonata in G minor (my favorite key). It's back to the trilling and over-ornamented style that introduced us to Pisendel's style. Violinist Anton Steck seems to be going after some less well-known composer's chamber music for baroque and early classical violin. I applaud "the series" that's being released on CPO, and hope it continues. There's a little bit from time to time to arouse our eyebrows with a rustic touch here and there, but it's also seemingly an honest, genuine appraisal of some curious works. This is not a must-have CD, but one for a curious interest in Mr. Pisendel and his personality, for sure.

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