Notes and Editorial Reviews
Solo Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in G; No. 2 in d; No. 3 in D; No. 4 in C; No. 5 in F; No. 6 in e
Peter Sheppard Skærved (vn)
TOCCATA 0146 (59:20)
Violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, who wrote the notes to Toccata’s release of the first six of Giuseppe Tartini’s 30
(usually numbered 26, although the manuscript includes more material, as readers can verify on the Petrucci Music Library website), contends that the composer may
have intended the set as a demonstration of various and sundry of his acoustical theories and discoveries. That’s why he suggested a manner of recording the works (with very close miking) that captures faintly audible acoustical phenomena and perhaps also justifies his playing the entire set without bass (although the composer has provided a rudimentary one for some of the sonatas). Paganiniana’s volume on Tartini includes some of these works, edited by Giovanni Guglielmo; and violinists have had at least these available, in addition to the sources Skæerved cites, for a number of years.
Whatever the proximity of the microphones to the violin, they still pick up a great deal of the room’s ambiance, and so listeners won’t feel trapped in a small space with the instrument. At this proximity, however, Skærved seems to produce a slightly though pleasantly edgy tone from his 1698 Stradivari (the “Joachim”) and plays the first movement of the First Sonata, and the beginning of the Second, in short phrases with occasional ornamentation that he makes sound spontaneous (in addition to his theoretical writings, Tartini also produced a highly instructive treatise on ornamentation). Throughout that second movement, listeners will encounter motives and violinistic patterns that run through almost all of the composer’s works, so violinists should be able to find a wealth of study material—as well as much that’s musically worthwhile—in such a set of variations, making it even more attractive and engaging than the composer’s
L’Arte del arco
. Skærved notes that Tartini seems originally to have considered the third movement the final one (although many of the sonatas comprise four movements), with the fourth, a Giga, occupying a somewhat uncertain position in the entire set.
The Second Sonata’s three movements fall into a typical pattern, with a double-stopped Siciliana (similar to, but flintier than, the one in the familiar “Devil’s Trill”). Skærved makes of the second movement a sulfurous statement that could take its place in that more famous work, but the mephitic exhalation continues in the last movement, almost belying, in this performance, the marking,
. The four-movement Third Sonata opens with an
that’s similarly spiky, at least in this performance, with sharply etched double-stops, played somewhat chunkily by Skærved in a manner that may seem to contradict Tartini’s stated preference for a singing style and his disdain for Antonio Vivaldi’s instrumental-sounding (to him) vocal works, which he considered made singers’ throats into so many violin necks. The Fourth Sonata (again in four movements, this time in the familiar pattern of the older
Sonata da chiesa
—slow, fast, slow, fast) begins with a more lyrical effusion (listeners can compare Skærved’s reading with the one by Luigi De Filippi of the same work on Challenge 72561,
review forthcoming). The second movement may not be fugal, but it bristles with breathtaking passagework and arpeggiated figures. The third movement continues in the less aggressive, more lyrical vein of the first, and the finale brings the work, in this reading, to a bracing conclusion.
The Fifth Sonata, with four movements arranged somewhat differently (slow, fast, fast, fast) includes a march-like
(the third movement), principally in double stops that sound energetic and crisp in Skærved’s reading. The Sixth Sonata, cast like the second, in three movements, begins with an
“senti la mare” that brings a few harmonic surprises. Skærved gives a spiky account of this movement, and one of the ensuing
that presses urgently forward. Skærved’s notes refer to the finale as “unbearably poignant,” a description at which some listeners might not arrive on their own after hearing his brisk performance.
Those who think of the composer in the terms suggested by performances of his more popular sonatas by violinsts like David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, and Arthur Grumiaux, may find Skærved’s performances a bit unsettling, although not so much so as Andrew Manze’s highly stylized ones, by turns tart and flinty, in his collection,
Tartini: The Devil’s Sonata
, Harmonia Mundi 907213,
21:5. But the opportunity to hear all of the sonatas by a single violinist should be enough to entice listeners of all kinds, and especially violinists, to travel with Skærved through the entire voyage. Recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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