Six Grand Concertos, Op. 3
Lidewij van der Voort (violin); La Sfera Armoniosa/Mike Fentross
Challenge Classics CC 72911 79:38 mins
Pieter Hellendaal was a Dutch pupil of Tartini who came to London in 1751, remaining in England until his death in 1799. While London was his first port of call, it was in East Anglia, first at King’s Lynn, then Cambridge where he was appointed organist of Pembroke College in 1762, that he spent the rest of his life.
Hellendaal’s Six Grand Concertos – concerti grossi, in other words – were published in 1758 as his Op. 3. The two previous collections were of violin sonatas. Unlike Corelli and Handel, whose concertino groups consist of two violins and cello, Hellendaal, like Geminiani and Avison, added a viola to make a four-instrument solo texture to contrast with the tutti sections. These concertos demonstrate an assured style and an expressive individuality which compare favourably with much concerto writing of the time. It is, in this light, surprising that they are not better known.
While the concertos adhere to a basic four-movement scheme, to which a concluding dance or march is added, there is plenty of melodic and compositional interest within. A good example is provided by the Concerto No. 4 in E flat which well illustrates the varied colours of Hellendaal’s palette. Its concluding ‘Pastorale’ is one of the most attractive pieces in the set, along with its markedly Handelian opening.
La Sfera Armoniosa under the direction of Mike Fentross conveys the contrasting affects of the music with expressive warmth and stylistic assurance. Yet too often the concertino sounds undernourished, especially in the violin strands. However, the commendable esprit demonstrated by the ensemble, and an excellent accompanying essay should encourage readers in explorative mode to proceed. The live recording includes applause.