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Andrew Manze, who in his
interview in Fanfare 21:5 decried the "boxed-set mentality," has begun to
break through his self-imposed boundaries. With what? Corelli's op. 5?
Bach's violin and keyboard sonatas (apparently an upcoming project) or solo
violin sonatas? No, with the crack-brained effusions of an almost entirely
unknown (and perhaps not entirely sane) 17th-century violinist-composer. In
fact, though, his choice of Pandolfi, however implausible on the face of it,
could hardly have been cannier. In review after review, I've noted that
Manze is most glittering when he dances with the corpse of a lunatic—such a
partner brings out the best in him, and his best is very good indeed. The
blurb on the jewelbox's cellophane wrapper states that Manze "first
introduced" Pandolfi in his Phantasticus collection (Harmonia Mundi USA HMU
907211, Fanfare 21:6); someone apparently overlooked his recording of seven
of Pandolfi's sonatas: op. 3 (nos. 2, 4, 5, and 6) and op. 4 (nos. 1, 4, and
6) for Channel Classics (CCS 5894, 17:6, and my Want List for 1994), also
with Richard Egarr (and Fred Jacobs playing theorbo). Since then, Pandolfi
has become Manze's exclusive property, and other violinists will probably
not be inclined to encroach on his territory, hardly because of inherent
unattractiveness in the pieces themselves (they fully deserve the attention
he has lavished on them) but because of the imagination and panache with
which he re-creates them. Who dared to challenge Heifetz's performance of
Bazzini's Ronde des lutins, a miniature he almost took out of circulation?
But these brief sonatas are in themselves much more substantial musically,
even if they do serve as frameworks for improvisation, than Bazzini's
lightweight though engaging bauble. Their ingeniously wrought ground basses
(such as those in op. 3, nos. 2 and 4), surprising alternation of fast and
slow sections, melodic attractiveness, harmonic subtlety, and rhythmic
buoyancy make them an extraordinary find; and Manze has good reason to revel
in his discovery on more than one release.
As in his earlier recording for Channel Classics, he still plays Pandolfi like Jack Nicholson playing the devil—his wild improvisatory fancy has hardly been tamed by the passing of four years. In fact, direct comparison reveals that Manze has pressed even further into the realm of the surreal (there are moments when he sounds like a different violinist from the one who played these works four years ago—in fact, the music itself occasionally sounds completely different). Yet the new effects arrange themselves even more snugly into structural patterns. And the stiffness of some of the earlier performances has been loosened in these. Finally, Richard Egarr sounds more strikingly vir-tuosic realizing the figured bass alone than he did in his partnership with Fred Jacobs, while the engineers have provided recorded sound even more crystalline and vivid than Manze and company received before. That recorded sound and Manze's booklet notes, as always well worth reading, enhance the compilation's attractiveness.
Like that of any great artist, Manze's virtuosity is informed by strong musical intellect and imagination, rendering his dazzle both identifiable and induplicable. "When she was good, she was very good; and when she was bad...." But Manze is simply never bad in Pandolfi's sonatas. Heifetz had La Ronde des lutins to call his own, and Manze has these sonatas, less "crack-brained," "lunatic," and "crazy" than "fertile," "luxuriant," and "imaginative." One of the great recordings, Harmonia Mundi's complete set of Pandolfi Sonatas deserves an especially high recommendation for everyone, everywhere.