J. S. Bach, Suites for Solo Cello, P. Pandolfo (viola da gamba) (2001)
C. F. Abel, Music from the Drexel Manuscript, P. Pandolfo (viola da gamba) (2009)
Paolo Pandolfo, a leading performer on the viola da gamba in our time, reunited the two composers by playing some of their music -- both featured on recordings he has released on the Glossa label -- at the Library of Congress free concert series on Saturday afternoon. I have been keenly following Pandolfo's visits to the Washington era since a 2006 concert at Dumbarton Oaks, where I was sitting so close to the performer that I could read the music on his stand. There is no better way to appreciate this most intimate of instruments, an experience that the warm acoustic of the Coolidge Auditorium also afforded. Pandolfo's recording of his viola da gamba adaptation of Bach's solo cello suites is not as far-fetched as one might suspect, since Bach may have written the pieces for Abel the elder, who played both cello and viola da gamba.
Truth be told, some of the suites work better on the gamba than others. The G major suite (No. 1, BWV 1007), played first, did not always sit easy, with uncomfortable high notes at the end of the Allemande and some technical struggles in the complex Gigue. Still, the gamba's flexibility and greater number of strings allow a player like Pandolfo to give a sense of improvisatory freedom to the work, keeping the pulse of the Prelude and the Allemande very free and even improvising a brief intonatio to the suite. The second suite was the C minor (No. 5, BWV 1011), which concluded the recital, and it worked much better on the viol. Pandolfo made good use of the bold, resonating strings for the low notes that punctuate the prelude, with a crisp, well-delineated articulation of the tangle of voices in the fugal section. The spidery runs, very soft, possible on the instrument served the chipper gavottes well, taken here in strict meter, especially the flowing triplets of Gavotte II.
Joan Reinthaler, Viola da gambist Paolo Pandolfo at the Library of Congress (Washington Post, January 30)
Paolo Pandolfo joins members of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society -- Marc Destrube (violin) and Kenneth Slowik (harpsichord) -- for a concert this Sunday (February 5, 7:30 pm) at the National Museum of American History, a program of music by Rameau with a lecture introduction beginning at 6:30 pm.