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  41:2 (11-12 /2017)
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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal

Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762) was one of several Baroque composers who chose to all but ignore traditional, culturally approved social models approved for his craft (patron-servant, contracted employee) in favor of merchandising himself. Like Boismortier and La Barre, he recognized that selling the inexhaustible resource of personality—be it as a teacher, performer, composer, courtier, educator, or publisher—offered him the greatest scope for his talents in the city he chose for much of his professional career, London.


To us today, his role as didactic educator goes practically unnoticed. Yet in his lifetime, Geminiani’s books of instruction were highly popular. And unlike most contemporary authors of musical manuals, he believed in learning by doing. As a result, his 1751 publication The Art of Playing on the Violin includes three sections, divided between lessons and music. The first is an extremely clear and detailed series of performance instructions from basic physical positioning to matters of interpretation. (“So in playing Divisions, if by your Manner of Bowing you lay a particular Stress on the Note at the beginning of every Bar, so as to render it predominant over the rest, you alter and spoil the true Air of the Piece, and except where the Composer intended it, and where it is always marked, there are very few Instances in which it is not very disagreeable.”) Some of these comments are specifically directed at a series of 24 very lengthy exercises which follows.


Finally, there’s a section of 12 compositions, ranging in performance on this disc from roughly a minute’s length to over three. Each is a single movement of varying complexity, though never require the skills of a Geminiani to perform competently. All are thematically attractive and demonstrate refined counterpoint. All also possess to a greater or lesser extent those touches of irregular phrasing that so annoyed English music historian Charles Burney: a point in their favor.


With the exception of a short improvised violin solo, the rest of this album features two of the sonatas from Geminiani’s opus 4 collection of 1739. These demonstrate the virtuosic element missing from The Art, much as one would expect, though as always with this composer, great dexterity is only a part (if an important part) of a greater mix of requirements that include refined skill and good judgment.


The performances are both attractive and informed. Gotfried von der Goltz has appeared before in these pages, both as a violinist and as director of the Freiberg Baroque Orchestra and the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra. His performances aren’t flashy but unfailingly musical, focused, and with especial attention to phrasing. As Robert Maxham has noted before, there’s no “sawing” in his fast passagework; and in slow movements, such as that leading off the Sonata No. 6, his singing tone is a treat to hear. (Geminiani repeatedly stated over the years that the singing voice should be the model for violin tone.) He treats ornaments flexibly, expressively, as part of the ongoing musical argument. Goltz is ably supported by cellist Annekatrin Bello, theorbist Thomas C. Boysen, and harpischordist Torsten Johann. (The organ continuo in the 12th composition from The Art is uncredited; presumably it’s Johann.) Sound is properly balanced between all the instruments, and with a rich, forward harmonic palette.

This album’s timings are unfortunately short. One could wish Goltz had recorded yet further sonatas from the op. 4 collection. That aside, strongly recommended.

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