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THE CONVICT HARPSICHORDIST
Domenico SCARLATTI
(1685 - 1757)

Sonata in F minor K 386
Sonata in F minor K 387
Sonata in E major K 380
Sonata in E major K 381
Sonata in D major K 32
Sonata in D major K 33
Pietro Domenico PARADIES (1707 - 1791)

Sonata no. 10 in D major
Johan Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)

Prelude and Fugue no. 24 in D Major BWV 893
Prelude and Fugue no. 15 in G major BWV 884
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)

Suite no. 5 in E major
Padre Antonio SOLER (1729 - 1783)

Sonata in C minor R18
Sonata in C minor R19
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)

Ah vous dirai-je Maman KV265
Ron NOGORCKA (b. 1948)

This Beauteous Wicked Place

Elizabeth Anderson (harpsichord)
Recorded 2003, Move Records, Eaglemont, Australia
MOVE MD3242 [58.07]



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In 1804, John Grant was given the death sentence as a result of his shooting Spencer Townsend in the buttock. After a petition to the King by his friends, the sentence was commuted to transportation to New South Wales. Rather surprisingly, among his luggage he took a harpsichord with him to Australia. This was the first harpsichord to be taken there. Whilst in Australia he wrote a diary and copious letters to his mother; so we know much about his stay, but frustratingly we have little record of what music he played on the harpsichord.

Australian harpsichordist Elizabeth Anderson has assembled this programme of pieces that Grant could have played. All the music is taken from books published in London between 1791 (when he was apprenticed as a clockmaker) and 1803 (when he was arrested). The programme was originally performed in 2001 at the City of London Festival at a performance in the Old Bailey, with the harpsichord pieces being interspersed with readings by Samuel West from Grantís letters and diary.

The first two items on the disc are sonatas in F minor by Scarlatti from a collection of thirty first published in London in the 1790s. All thirty came from manuscripts in the possession of the collector Viscount FitzWilliam, and none had been printed in London before.

Paradies came from Scarlattiís home town of Naples and lived in London for 24 years, before leaving in 1770, when he sold his collection of manuscripts to Viscount Fitzwilliam. The sonata on this disc, with its strong Scarlatti-like influences, comes from a collection published in 1791 to commemorate his death.

The two Bach preludes and fugues come from an English edition of around 1800. Handelís Suite No. 5 in E major was originally published by Handel as part of a spoiler for a pirated edition brought out by John Walsh. Walshís plates were still being used by his successors and an edition was printed in 1795.

Scarlattiís E major sonatas on the disc come from editions published by Clementi, from manuscripts acquired on his European concert tours, whereas the D major sonatas are from one of the various other English editions of his works.

Solerís sonatas owe their publication to Viscount Fitzwilliam visiting Spain in 1772, when he met Soler at the Monastery at El Escorial. Up till then Soler was known primarily for his treatise on modulation, but Fitzwilliamís manuscripts became the basis for the publication of a number of Solerís sonatas in London. Owing much to Scarlatti, Solerís style incorporates rather more daring modulations. The cantabile in C minor R18 is a beautifully poignant movement.

The final historical work on the disc is Mozartís set of variations on ĎAh vous dirai-je Mamaní (Twinkle, twinkle, little star).

The disc is completed, though, by a piece by the contemporary Australian composer Ron Nagorcka. This combines the harpsichord with a didgeridoo and sounds of the Australian bush played from a keyboard sampler. It is Nagorckaís response to John Grantís story. The piece is undoubtedly atmospheric, but Nagorcka has not expunged the harpsichordís distinctly neo-classical character so that the piece wonderfully evokes the idea of someone playing the instrument amidst the Australian bush.

The booklet includes copious notes by Anderson herself along with a long, illuminating essay on Grantís Australian sojourn. The disc also contains an 18 minute CD-ROM video of Grantís story which gives a good flavour of Andersonís show.

This is an enterprising disc and Elizabeth Anderson plays the pieces with a fine sense of style. She uses a modern harpsichord but sometimes I could have wished for a little more variety of attack and timbre; overall the performances lacked élan. The recital is rather dominated by Scarlatti, but I suspect that Grantís repertoire is just as likely to have included various petits maîtres and arrangements, things that Anderson has not included here. Still, with the informative booklet, the CD video (if you have a PC to play it) and the recital itself, this disc does prove an interesting sidelight on the music of the period.

Robert Hugill

 



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