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Pauline Nobes – Baroque violin
Rhapsody Ensemble Editions 01

Works by Pedro Lopez Nogueira and Johann Joseph Vilsmäyr; TPT 56:49 Available directly from Pauline Nobes. For more information, click here

The second edition of the New Grove has arrived, but neither Nogueira nor Vilsmäyr make it into the printed edition: not even the merest biographical details are included. This is all the more surprising as Nobes' pioneering research on the unfamiliar solo Baroque violin repertory is as well known in musicological circles as Peter Holman's rediscovery of the Vilsmäyr manuscript.

Very little is known about the life of Vilsmäyr. He studied with the violin virtuoso Biber and was employed at the Hofkapelle, Salzburg from 1689 until his death in 1722. He was clearly influenced by his teacher in the use of scordatura and multi-stopping techniques: Nobes notes that four of the six Partitas from the collection Artificiosus Concentus pro camera (1715) use novel tunings. Scordatura was frequently used in seventeenth-century German-speaking lands (perhaps the most extreme examples are Biber's Mystery and Rosary Sonatas in which fifteen different tunings are used) and, in this context, there is little remarkable about its use here. However, Nobes' claim that Vilsmäyr's Partitas are for unaccompanied violin is of significant interest since the collection was published just a few years before Bach prepared fair copies of his own works for unaccompanied violin. Johann Paul Westhoff is often quoted as the first composer to have written a whole collection of works for unaccompanied violin, and it has been suggested that his Suites for solo violin (1696) could have been the model for Bach's three Partitas for unaccompanied violin. There is, however, a clue on the title page of Vilsmäyr's Partitas that might imply that the works were conceived with a bass part: Artificiosus Concentus pro camera, distributus in Sex Partes, seu Partias à Violino Solo Con Basso belle imitante. Indeed, the ensemble Bell' Arte Salzburg recorded the A major Partita (RAM 59602) in 1996, complete with what is presumably a reconstructed or recently discovered bass part. Whereas the title is apt for of Nobes' disc, it may not be wholly appropriate for these works, but the lack of a bass part does not negate the undoubted value of hearing Vilsmäyr's music, albeit possibly incomplete.

Nobes' pellucid playing is wholly convincing, the depth of tone from the Testore violin alluring and the highly-characterised and technically-assured playing of the closing Fantasia(s) is equally impressive.

T he Partitas are substantial works comprising an opening Prelude followed by a wide selection of dance movements. As might be expected from an established performer on period instruments, these are stylish performances with poised phasing in the dance movements and the subtle use of ornamentation on repeats. Having listened to these works many times over the past few weeks, I find the performance of G minor Partita to be the most enduring. The opening Prelude, arpeggiated from beginning to end, makes for hypnotic listening and is quite different to the florid Preludes of the A and D major works that sound so reminiscent of Biber. There is much to enjoy in the dance movements too, but suffice to say that these are refined performances, never extreme and always carefully phrased.

These are the first works I have heard by the Portuguese composer-violinist Nogueira. Nobes effortlessly captures the improvisatory quality of the opening Preludes, written without bar lines or a precise rhythmic structure. Unlike Vilsmäyr. who clearly enjoys experimenting with scordatura and multiple-stopping techniques, Nogueira is content with the melodic potential of the instrument, though the harmonic implications are explicit in the carefully-crafted melodic lines. Nobes' pellucid playing is wholly convincing, the depth of tone from the Testore violin alluring and the highly-characterised and technically-assured playing of the closing Fantasia(s) is equally impressive.

The occasional edit is audible (sample track 32 1:40), though the musical flow is never compromised, and some may find the recording too close and slightly hard-edged in the upper registers. Nevertheless, these minor issues do not detract too much from an otherwise fascinating release. This disc is self-recommending to those with an interest in eighteenth century Austrian and Portuguese instrumental music.

Stephen Bray  

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