George Frederick Pinto – named deliberately in honour of Handel – was born in London in 1785 and, like Thomas Linley, is one of the great what-ifs of British music. Both were precocious and both died desperately young: Linley drowned at twenty-two and Pinto died, possibly of TB, at the age of just twenty.
Pinto was by all accounts a distinguished violinist, performing frequently as a soloist in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Studies with Haydn’s patron, Johann Peter Salomon, must have given him an edge as he was promoted from a young age. Not content with virtuosity on the violin he was an excellent pianist, performing public concertos, but his health gave way and appearances were curtailed. Indeed, it was his life as an executant musician that kept his name alive, not necessarily as a composer.
Shortly after his death his mother published a volume of three sonatas ‘for the pianoforte with an accompaniment for a violin’, and they are amongst Pinto’s last works. All are in three movements. The most advanced is the first, in G minor, and it reveals some salient features of his compositional art. The first is good use of minor keys, another is phrasal flexibility and still another, in this work at least (though not in the companion sonatas), is an appreciation of Sturm und Drang elements. Themes are excellent and often cast in darker, lower strings. In fact the English composer Geoffrey Bush admired the first movement of this sonata, writing about it appreciatively in the relevant volume of The Blackwell History of Music in Britain. The central movement is calm after the storm, a passion-spent moment of reflective warmth before a genial Rondo, full of extrovert charm and propensity for key changing, brings some naturally witty writing to end the piece.
There’s a Mozartian element to the writing, and that’s certainly the case with the second of the set, the piano often leading with the violin commentating and picking up lines. Lyrical and easy-going there’s also a proto-Schubertian melodic freshness to the writing. Other enjoyable things include the pathos of this sonata’s songlike Andante, and the Haydnesque finale with badinage between the two instruments. The B flat major sonata, the last of the set, is straightforward in its opening movement to such an extent that one is totally unprepared for the raptly expressive but notably spare slow movement. It is exceptionally effective. The lightly tripping Rondo finale banishes care.
The balance is realistic and the recorded sound is well judged. Helpful booklet notes are always a bonus, as here.
Elizabeth Sellars and Kemji Fujimura play well on modern instruments, Sellers playing a Hornsteiner violin, though it’s undated in the notes. Their performances are attractive, though Sellars can be fluty in the upper strings and she essays one or two scoopy effects. But in the main their attention to the Classical detailing of the sonatas pays dividends.
1 Dec 2016
George Frederick Pinto - Complete Sonatas for Piano and Violin