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Johann Christoff MANN (1726 - 1782)
Sonata per il Cembalo #1 in A (<1765?) [19.51]
Sonata per il Cembalo #2 in G (<1765?) [16.15]
Sonata per il Cembalo #3 in F (<1765?) [20.37]
Sonata per il Cembalo #4 in Eb (<1765?) [19.51]
Sonata per il Cembalo #5 in D (<1765?) [17.15]
Sonata per il Cembalo #6 in Bb (<1765?) [24.01]
Georg Christoff WAGENSEIL (1715 - 1777)

Divertimento da Cembalo Vol 1 #4 in E (1750) [10.04]
Divertimento da Cembalo Vol 1 #6 in A (1750) [9.44]
Roderick E. Simpson, harpsichord (sampling MIDI synthesizer) and editor.
Recorded in Boise, Idaho, USA, November 1996
Notes in English
INITIUM CD-A001/2 2-CD [62.40 + 70.11]

Comparison recordings:
Benda, harpsichord sonatas (>1766?), Franzova. Supraphon SU 3745-2 131

The "brothers Mann" present several enigmas in the history of Viennese pre-classical music. Was J.C. Mann actually the brother of G.M. (or M.G.) Monn (rural Austrian spelling of the name although G. M. was born in Vienna). Did he change the spelling of his name to avoid confusion with him or just to please his patrons who spoke German? Where was J. C. born? Did he return to Vienna to assist his dying brother to settle his affairs? Was he active in Prague and Vienna only, or did he travel?

Whatever, for their time these sonatas are brilliantly entertaining, and I have elsewhere drawn parallels between them and the roughly contemporaneous keyboard works of Benda which are enjoying a deserved popularity right now. Synthesist Simpson performs them on a large harpsichord with a deep 16’ rank which he uses with particularly good effect in the "Bells of St. Stephen’s" movement of sonata #1. Recording is close and engulfing, recalling the effect of the Fernando Valenti Westminster recordings of the 1950s but without the bumps, twangs and thumps of that noisy instrument. Simpson’s taste and ability to ornament and embellish music from this period is truly exceptional, neither too much nor too little. Personally I would have preferred unequal temperament, but Simpson chooses equal temperament; it’s one of the things we argue about.

These works were all edited and performed from manuscript by Simpson who gives credit to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Music Abteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv for the Mann manuscripts, and to the Institut für Musicwissenschaft, Universität Wien for the Wagenseil scores. He records more from that manuscript on Initium release A-006, on a fortepiano or, I should say, fortepianos.

Although Wagenseil, personal musician to Maria Theresa and her family, was always more successful and better known of these two men, when, after the Mann, we move on to Wagenseil, there is the unmistakable sense of let-down. Yet these Wagenseil Divertimenti are charming works, brilliant in their own way, and impeccably performed.

The use of a computer assisted MIDI synthesiser instrument will inevitably bring protesting cries of "The computer is playing the music!" This is absurd; the computer does only what it is told to do and absolutely nothing else. Simpson has played oboe and flute in the orchestra and taught piano for a number of years. He performed with his star student at the two pianos for the local public performances of Una Cosa Rara, after editing and arranging the part from the orchestral manuscript score. This is to say Simpson knows all about performing music in public, but as the years have passed his dexterity has not kept up with his imagination, and the computer assistance allows him to play this music exactly as he wishes it to be heard ... without compromise. His performance of the "Aria Scocese" ("The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls") and variation in Mann’s Sonata #4 should silence detractors.

When you’ve heard these disks you’ll want to hear more from J. C. Mann, and we’re in luck: Simpson has already recorded three of his Menuet-and-Trios for fortepiano on issues A-004 and A-005, and I promise to keep nagging him to do more of them for us.

Paul Shoemaker


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