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Carlo Ignazio MONZA (c.1696 - 1739)
Suite in E [10:59]
Suite in c minor [8:37]
Suite in D [15:04]
Suite in C [16:56]
Prelude and fugue in f minor [6:41]
Suite in c minor: prelude [1:44]
Carlo MONARI da Bologna (c.1663 - 1697)
Prelude and fugue [3:09]
Bernardo PASQUINI (1637 - 1710)
Toccata con lo Scherzo del Cucco [4:09]
Terence Charlston (harpsichord)
rec. October 2005, St Andrew, Bramfield, Hertfordshire, UK. DDD
DEUX-ELLES DXL1117 [67:14]
Experience Classicsonline

Terence Charlston is an adventurous keyboard player. He likes to explore hardly-known repertoire as his recording of the keyboard works by the English composer Albertus Bryne proves (review). This time he has turned his attention to Italy, to keyboard music by Carlo Ignazio Monza.

The fact that most of the compositions recorded here are called 'suites' is rather surprising. Monza was an Italian composer, but used a form which was French in origin and not used in his own country. His suites were printed under the title 'Pièces Modernes Pour le Clavecin'. And if that is not enough he used the French form of his first Christian name: Charles. This calls for an explanation.

Contemporary libretti refer to Monza as 'the Milanese'. He was born probably in Monza, near Milan. Little is known about his early years, but we know that his oratorios and operas were performed not only in Milan, but also in other cities, including Venice and Rome. In 1729 he became a member of the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna. In the last years of his life he was active as a canon and choirmaster in Vercelli in Piedmont.

This city is close to Turin, the capital of the duchy of Savoy. The Piedmontese court had strong ties with Paris and a number of French aristocrats lived in Turin. A nephew of François Couperin, Marc Roger Normand, served as court organist from 1689 to 1734. So the strong French influence in Savoy is the most likely explanation of the character of Monza's keyboard works. The date and place of the publication of his suites is not known, but could well be Turin.

It is very likely you never have heard of Monza. But his music was not unknown: in his ballet Pulcinella Stravinsky used 20 fragments from works by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Two of these were in fact from the pen of Monza. This mistake was not his fault, though: in 1771 and 1778 the English publisher Longman printed two selections of Monza's keyboard works under the name of Pergolesi. As was so often the case he made use of the huge popularity of Pergolesi to increase sales.

Although Monza's suites reflect the French style there is quite a lot of variety in the pieces Terence Charlston has chosen. The prelude from the Suite in E, for instance, is majestic, and its dotted rhythms refer to the Lullian opera overture. The prelude of the Suite in D, on the other hand, is a virtuosic display of ascending and descending scales, which is reminiscent of the 'préludes non mesurés' by French composers like Louis Couperin. And then the prelude of the Suite in C is very different again, with the right hand playing a melody and the left hand being reduced to a chordal accompaniment. This sounds considerably less French and reflects the modern galant style of the mid-18th century.

A number of movements are very virtuosic. I have already mentioned the prelude from the Suite in D, and this same work also contains two other virtuosic movements, Le Reveille-matin - a character piece as many French composers included in their suites - which Terence Charlston compares with the style of Domenico Scarlatti, and the concluding Gavotte with 6 doubles. The Suite in C ends with another series of variations, the Air with 13 doubles, and this is even more technically challenging. This reminds me of the way Handel writes variations for the keyboard, for instance the Chaconne with 49 variations in C.

The Prelude and fugue in f minor are also interesting. The prelude is a kind of toccata and in the second half we hear an episode with very strong dissonances, which makes one think of the Toccata VII by Michelangelo Rossi (1601/02-1656). Like the opening of the Suite in C the fugue doesn't sound like a typical baroque piece but rather looks forward to a later style.

Terence Charlston has added some pieces by two Italian composers of a previous generation. "Both represent a style of keyboard playing influential in Italy at the time of Monza's youth but already on the wane by the time his suites were published", he writes in the programme notes. Bartolomeo Monari da Bologna was - as his nickname indicates - from Bologna where he seems to have spent his whole life. Like Monza he was a member of the Accademia Filarmonica. The prelude and fugue recorded here are both entitled 'sonata' in a collection of pieces by various authors, printed in Bologna around 1687 and published in England in a collection with 'Voluntarys & Fugues' in 1710.

Bernardo Pasquini was one of the greatest keyboard virtuosos in Italy in his time. He worked mostly in Rome, where he frequently played with Corelli and probably also has met Handel.

For this recording Terence Charlston has chosen an Italian harpsichord, despite the strong French character of Monza's harpsichord works. He admits that a French 17th-century harpsichord also had been an option. It would be interesting to know whether the French taste at the Piedmontese court included the use of French harpsichords. Anyway, the harpsichord used here is a fine instrument and well suited to play the music on this disc. In several movements, for instance the allemande of Monza's Suite in D, but also in the 'prelude and fugue' by Monari the temperament of the harpsichords creates some harmonic tension which is probably exactly what the composers intended.

In order to convince an audience that music has unjustly been neglected it is essential that it receives the best possible interpretation. And that is exactly what we get here. Like in the previous recording with music by Albertus Bryne this disc is an ear-opener which presents these suites in their full glory. This is simply splendid music, and Terence Charlston's performance is outstanding. Charlston is also a gifted musicologist: he plays the prelude of the Suite in c minor twice, with different interpretations of a symbol used in the print of this prelude. In 2009 his edition of the whole collection is also published.

This disc is an ideal combination of first-rate music and performance, a beautiful instrument in an appropriate temperament and lucidly-written programme notes. The booklet contains all the technical information one needs, including the sources of all the pieces in the programme.

Johan van Veen


 


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