> CHERUBINI Keyboard Sonatas Barberiis 8573874912 [PW]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sei Sonate per Cimbalo (Six sonatas for keyboard)
Sonata no 1 in F
1 Moderato 5’38"
2 Rondò 4’20"
Sonata no 2 in C
3 Moderato 6’36"
4 Rondò 3’47"
Sonata no 3 in B flat
5 Allegro comodo 6’59"
6. Rondò - Andantino 3’49"
Sonata no 4 in G
7. Moderato 5’10"
8. Rondò - Andantino 4’31"
Sonata no 5 in D
9. Allegro con brio 5’19"
10. Rondò - Allegretto 4’44"
Sonata no 6 in E flat
11. Allegro spiritoso 9’14"
12. Rondò - Andantino con moto 4’38"
Lya De Barberiis (fortepiano)
Recordings made in Luglio 1977
WARNER FONIT 8573 87491-2 [64.53]

Cherubini is not known for keyboard music, and, indeed, wrote very little of it. The six sonatas for keyboard were composed while Cherubini was living in Milan in 1780, studying with Giuseppe Sarti, the Maestro di Cappella at Milan Cathedral. They were published in Florence three years later and remained his only keyboard music to go to press. The sonatas are therefore early works, very much in the ‘Classical’ style and all consist of only two movements and all are in major keys. While the sonatas display a gift for melodic construction, there is an undeniable variation in the intellectual quality of the works. Movements consisting of toccata-like passage-work of great virtuosity and expressive freedom are juxtaposed with academic passages of little originality or imagination. There are many examples of the former in the first movements of these sonatas, some of which show an indebtedness to the contrapuntal style of J S Bach and demand considerable dexterity from the performer. The first movement of the sixth sonata is an interesting example. It is through composed (i.e. it does not have the bipartite structure with each section repeated that is common to all the other first movements) and at over nine minutes long, shows Cherubini’s ability to develop his material on a large scale.

The fascinating aspect of this recording is the use of a fortepiano as the chosen instrument. This is commonplace now, but this recording was made in 1977 when ‘early music’ and the period instrument revival was still very much concentrated in the music of the baroque era and the reproduction of early pianos was in its infancy. The instrument used here is an original; an English piano made by W. Dettmer around the first couple of decades of the 19th century. It is hard to know what condition the instrument was in at that time, and even more difficult to know how much the regulation and possible restoration that would be done today would change the sound. There are still many listeners who just do not like the sound of early pianos, and it must be said that the quality of the sound of this particular instrument is not great. The bass in particular is rather dull; "thunky" if you like. That having been said, there is still a strong argument to be made for the use of such an instrument, as this is the sort of thing that Cherubini would have used to practice his own (limited) keyboard skills. The fact that these sonatas were published for "cimbalo" (properly ‘harpsichord’) should not stand in the way of the stylistic argument for the use of the fortepiano. By the 1780s such instruments were very well established, although the harpsichord was by no means obsolete. For a recording made in 1977 this aspect is particularly interesting.

Lya De Barberiis plays these works with conviction. A formidable character, to judge by the photo of her in the booklet, seated at a modern grand, one wonders how familiar she was with the fortepiano at the time of the recording. There are aspects of touch and articulation that sound like a player used to a modern piano transferring the same technique onto the lighter instrument, and this may account for some of the hardness in the sound. It is impossible to deny that there are things on the disc that this reviewer does not much like. However, the importance of such a recording of this sort of repertoire, made on an original instrument at the time the recording was produced is an undeniably fascinating aspect. This is the sort of disc that does wonders to promote discussion of aspects of performance practice and even of ‘taste.’ Although there are things which one would not expect to hear in a new recording of the same works, (the aforementioned hardness of the sound, the rather close microphone placement and the very dry studio acoustic) those very aspects define the recording as being of its own time. In this it forms a most interesting listening experience. It is certainly not a disc worth buying if the listener is not prepared to bring their own brain into the equation, but the repertoire, the performance, and the recording are all likely to provoke reaction of one sort or another. It is strongly arguable that that is much of the point.

Peter Wells

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