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Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697-1763)
Sonata No.1 in D major (1742) [13:15]
Sonata No.2 in C major (1742) [15:21]
Sonata No.3 in F major (1742) [13:17]
Sonata No.4 in G minor (1742) [13:28]
Sonata No.5 in C minor (1742) [15:31]
Filippo Emanuele Ravizza (harpsichord)
rec. Spring 2006, Studio Bartok, Bernareggio, Milan
CONCERTO CD 2026 [71:04]

Experience Classicsonline

 

Paradoxically, Platti presents the case of a composer who has generally sunk into oblivion but has also been lavishly praised in some quarters.

First, the facts. Born in or around Padua in 1697, Platti is believed to have studied music in Venice – his father Carlo is said by some sources to have played in the orchestra of St. Mark’s cathedral – possibly with Francesco Gasparini and with Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello. In 1722 – along with Fortunato Chelleri (later ‘Keller’) and the singer Girolamo Bassani – he took up a post in the service of Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, Prince-Archbishop of Würzburg. Although his first patron died only two years after his arrival in Würzburg, Platti seems to have spent the rest of his life there, having married the soprano Theresia Lambrucker in 1723, working for various members of the family of the Counts von Schönborn, notably Count Rudolf Franz Erwein, a particularly keen patron of music. Platti was a versatile musician; initially famous an oboist, he was also an accomplished violinist, cellist, flautist and harpsichordist; he taught singing and had a decent tenor voice; and, of course, he was a composer. He wrote at least one opera (now lost), several mass settings, a number of oratorios and cantatas, and over a hundred instrumental works. Rediscovery of his works is only really beginning now.

Yet almost a century ago, one musicologist was already making considerable claims for Platti. As long ago as 1910 the Italian Fausto Torrefranca published the earliest of his repeated claims as to the continuing vitality and quality of Italian music in the eighteenth century, a vitality which led him to insist that it was really the work of Italians (rather than Germanic) composers which paved the way for almost all the major later developments in music, for the classical sonata, the concerto, the symphony, the string quartet, even musical romanticism. One of his ‘heroes’ (along with such figures as Galuppi and Sammartini) was Platti. Platti, insisted Torrefranca, anticipated most of the innovations which German (and other) scholars had attributed to figures such as C.P.E. Bach (trying to do down C.P.E. Bach seems to have become something of an obsession with Torrefranca. Some of his arguments for Platti’s precedence involve some pretty dubious juggling with dates and some pretty speculative leaps of logic). Some of his arguments are presented in his book Le Origini italiane del romanticismo musicale; I primitivi della sonata moderna (Turin, Fratelli Bocca, 1930). Torrefranca died in 1955. His characteristically intemperate study of Platti and his importance – Giovanni Benedetto Platti e la sonata moderna (Milan, Ricordi) – was published posthumously in 1963. It runs to over 400 pages and makes some pretty extraordinary claims, effectively identifying Platti as one of the most significant figures in the evolution of music in the eighteenth century. The claim is patently excessive. Yet Torrefranca’s claims contain within them certain more modest ‘truths’. Italian keyboard writing in the eighteenth century was more various and interesting than most standard histories have suggested; and Platti did have a certain distinctiveness as a composer and probably deserves a bit more attention than he has generally received. Neither the extreme of ‘oblivion’, nor the claim that he is a kind of principal progenitor of Mozart and Beethoven’s sonatas, get Platti’s position or merits right.

The truth seems to be that Platti is a very competent, though unevenly inventive, composer of keyboard sonatas; the best movements of the sonatas are expressive and quirky; the weakest are, if truth be told, somewhat dull affairs. There is an attractive ‘vocal’ quality to some of his writing, not least in some fine slow movements. There are quasi-improvisational passages where it is very hard to guess quite where the music will go next. There are passages of intricate countermelody and of complex syncopated rhythms. There are also moments of disarming simplicity. But for all this, it is hard to imagine that many will want to go along with Torrefranca’s judgement, quoted with approval in the booklet notes to this CD:

"How to portray Giovanni Benedetto Platti? … He was a true artist, this is evident, but he was also a great artist and must take his place in history among the most important authors of instrumental music … As far as music for harpsichord is concerned … his style stands out over that of his contemporaries. To have a clear idea, just choose and read, one after another, those works in which he has been able to instil his true personality in the most concise and brilliant way and he conquers a place in the world of the indisputable, the highest sphere of art."

With this first volume of what is billed as a complete recording of Platti’s harpsichord sonatas, played with proficient enthusiasm and commitment by Filippo Emanuele Ravizza, listeners have an opportunity to make up their own mind. Ravizza is not shy of striking colours or sharp transitions, and certainly seems to share Torrefranca’s estimate of Platti’s innovatory style. To my ears the results seem sometimes a little forced, a little strained. But there is a great deal to enjoy in this immensely vivacious reading of the music. Ravizza plays a modern copy of an instrument by the eighteenth century manufacturer J.D. Dulcken; though no details are given it is evidently of the same ‘family’ as the copy of a Dulcken instrument of 1745 played so famously by Gustav Leonhardt, and its sharp, percussive sound is well suited to Ravizza’s needs here.

Platti is not the staggeringly important figure of Torrefranca’s claims. But he is an interesting writer for keyboards who deserves a hearing. He gets a good chance to be heard on this first CD of Ravizza’s series (the second volume has also now been issued). It is a shame that the time limits of the CD mean that here we get to hear only nos. 1-5 of Platti’s 1742 collection of VI Sonates pour le Clavessin sur le Gout Italien. The sixth heads off the second CD.

Glyn Pursglove

 

 

 


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