Eva Saladin: The Di Martinelli Collection

The Di Martinelli Collection
Violin sonatas of the late 17th century
Eva Saladin, violin
Glossa Music GCD 922521
. 69’07

This excellent debut recording from the Swiss-Dutch violinist Eva Saladin features a selection of pieces from a manuscript of 32 late 17th-century violin sonatas, dating from the years around 1690, found amongst the 65 manuscripts and 32 prints of the Di Martinelli Collection in the archives of the University of Leuven. The pieces are of various origins, with a focus on three regions, the Flemish-Netherlands, South German & the Habsburg regions, and Italy. The collection was put together by members of the Italian di Martinelli family, who had settled in present-day Belgium. These violin sonatas seem to be connected with the second generation di Martinelli, Guillelmus Carolus, a violinist and singing master based in Diest, in Brabant.

The composers are by and large little known – or not known at all, at least to me. The one obvious name is Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, but he is only conjectured as the composer of an otherwise anonymous Sonata. The programme notes give detailed information about the composers and the background to the music.

The Sonatas are all broadly in the stylus phantasticus genre, with multiple sections of contrasting musical ideas within a unified whole, rather than a sequence of separate movements. Music like this can easily be seen as mini-operas, the frequent changes of mood and style giving a theatrical feel to the music. The music switches from free, improvisatory and often virtuosic, passages to reflective moments of repose or particular melodic interest. There is often a more formal central section of a fugal or imitative nature such as a canzona, or a ground bass in the form of a passacaglia or ciaconna.

A number of the Sonatas include techniques such as scordatura, when the strings of the violin are tuned in a non-standard manner in order to reinforce certain harmonics and notes, echo passages, and double and triple stopping, where the performer plays two or three notes at the same time. All the pieces include and/or invite the use of ornaments and elaborations on the written text. Unusually, the continuo group in four of the Sonata includes two harpsichords, giving a particularly rich harmonic sound and elaborate figurative possibilities. This was common practice in opera performances but not, as far as I know, in chamber music like this. But the expansive sound adds to the operatic nature of the musical structures, as can be heard from the opening of the first track.

Eva Saladin and her supporting musicians Johannes Keller & Sebastian Wienand, harpsichords, and Daniel Rosin, cello, all studied at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis who are producers of the recording. They “represent a new generation in the field of historical musical practice and combine high technical mastery with curiosity for the historical fundamentals and joy in experimentation”. Eva Saladin’s violin playing is beautifully expressive and communicative, catching the varying moods of the music to perfection. Her use of ornamentation is exemplary, always allowing the musical line to flow. The continuo realisations are very effective, the two harpsichords working surprisingly well together.

Johann Christoph Pez (1664-1716) Sonata 30
Gian Carlo Cailò (1659-1722) Sonata 3
Johann H, von Weissenburg (c1660-c1730) Sonata 21
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1620/23-1680) Sonata 20
Carlo Ambrogio Lonati (1645-1710/15) Sonata 8
Pietro Paolo Cappelini (?-?) Sonata 24
N. Goor (?-?) Sonata 10
David Petersen (c1651-1737) Sonata 1