Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The master gambist Pancho Pandolfo

Thanks to this week's broadcast of The Early Music Program on BBC3 I became introduced to the recordings of Pancho Pandolfo, who teaches at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. He is the finest viola da gamba player I have heard, whose virtuosity on the instrument, based largely on improvisation, is nothing short of spectacular. Unlike most virtuosi, his skills contribute to the expressive possibilities of the instrument rather than simply show off the player's skills.

I've always thought that the gamba was a far more subtle, more expressive instrument than the 'cello, whose gooey emotionality and vulgar vibrato I usually find sort of appalling. The more intellectually vigorous gamba can handle both the relatively brainy, contrapuntal repertory of Bach and the English consort composers, but  does equally well with the more melodic and frequently tearful works of Sainte-Colombe or Marin Marais, and can skip along nimbly with Baroque dances as well.

Unfortunately most gamba recordings are produced by Baroque authenticity militants who attempt to recreate what they view as period acoustic ambience by recording in big hard-floored rooms with hard-surfaced walls, the instrument located a good distance from the microphones. Jordi Savall, another celebrated gambist, has been often recorded in this manner.

Not a bit of it with Pandolfo's excellent recordings, where the mikes are set close to the instrument, putting the listener so to speak in the driver's seat. The sound combined with the playing is a revelation and a cause for great rejoicing, as you can hear for yourself here or here.

Eat your heart out, Yo-Yo Ma.

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