Terence Charlston is an adventurous keyboard player. He
likes to explore hardly-known repertoire as his recording of
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
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