Ensemble Diderot, led by Johannes Pramsohler on violin, presents a number of chamber pieces by Handel, Fux, Fasch, Tuma, and Telemann with ties to Dresden and the violinist-composer Pisendel. The album notes have been authored by Reinhard Goebel, painting the connection for us in words between the draw Dresden had for these composers. This album, the ensemble’s premier release, features four players. Varoujan Doneyan joins Pramsohler on violin; Gulrim Choi performs on cello, and veteran collaborator Philippe Grisvard performs on harpsichord.
I’m a fan of the trio sonata format, and that’s what is presented here. I wish that had been made clear in the album’s title: Trio Sonatas for Dresden would have been more apt, perhaps, and the title chosen for the album is my only gripe.
The playing throughout is sensitive and intelligent. The piece by Tuma (Frantisek Ignac Tuma, 1704-1774) is a world premier according to the ensemble. I had really enjoyed the recital of his music by Concerto Italiano, which devoted an entire CD to his music. This piece is too short - just four parts at around 5.5 minutes.
The Telemann piece is from his Musique de Table collection, the trio sonata in E-flat major. It provides us a comparison with the version recorded several decades earlier by Musica Antiqua Köln; both have their merits, but for the tempi chosen, I might return to Goebel’s original if I had to pick a favorite.
I didn’t care much for the slower movements of HWV 394 (from Handel’s pen), but the faster ones are nicely wrought. All four movements are performed well.
Sometimes in trio sonata textures the two violins (and the same might go for a string quartet) are clearly defined by personality or ability level. In other words, it’s clear who the “first” violin is because they are either a stronger player, or else they are favored in the mix. Having seen enough live performances, I see this in person too, the sound quality coming from the first player is clearly stronger than the person playing “second fiddle.” The Emerson Quartet, as an example, tries to escape that by mixing up their lead player so they both have the opportunity to take that role. For this recording, I was impressed that both Mr. Pramsohler and Mr. Doneyan don’t seem to be competing for coming across as a lead; they both complement one another in the texture with a similar voice and neither player comes across as weaker than the other. I often had the same thoughts in some of MAK’s earlier recordings with Goebel and Bass; it’s exciting to see the formation of a new ensemble that really comes across as a team.
In terms of a purchasing decision, you may already have a collection of Handel’s trio sonatas or Telemann’s as well. However, Ensemble Diderot offers us three world premiers by Fux, Fasch, and Tuma, and that combined with great recorded sound quality make for an attractive aural visit to baroque Dresden.