The second half of
the 17th century in Italy still doesn't
get the same attention as the preceding
period - the time of Monteverdi and
Frescobaldi - or the first half of the
18th century. Operas, chamber and orchestral
music of that time are not frequently
performed and recorded. The same has
happened to the keyboard music. Although
Bernardo Pasquini (1637 - 1710) composed
a large number of keyboard pieces, not
many of them have been recorded. This
disc which is devoted entirely to his
output for keyboard is a most welcome
addition to the catalogue.
Bernardo Pasquini was
born in Massa Valdinievole in Pistoia,
and moved to Rome in 1650, where he
spent the rest of his life. He was mainly
active as an organist in several churches.
From 1664 until his death he was organist
of the S Maria in Aracoeli, with the
title 'organist of the Senate and Roman
people'. He made some appearances outside
Italy: in 1664 he travelled to Paris
in the entourage of the papal legate,
and played for Louis XIV, and he has
also been in Vienna at the court of
Leopold I. He must have made quite an
impression on the emperor, since some
pupils were sent to him by Leopold.
Other pupils included Johann Philipp
Krieger and Georg Muffat and Italians
like Francesco Gasparini and Domenico
Zipoli, probably also Francesco Durante
and Domenico Scarlatti.
As a keyboard player
Pasquini was also involved in performances
of operas, oratorios and chamber music.
In this capacity he worked regularly
with Arcangelo Corelli, who was leader
of the orchestra in the performance
of one of Pasquini's operas. Both were
also members of the Accademia Arcadia.
His keyboard works
display Pasquini’s strong inclination
to the music of the past. He made extensive
study of the keyboard works of Frescobaldi
and the sacred polyphony of Palestrina.
He copied a number of the latter's works.
In the liner notes Alessandro Borin
refers to a remark attributed to Pasquini:
"Whoever claims to be a master of music,
or an organist, yet does not taste the
honey and drink the milk of those divine
compositions of Palestrina, will certainly
remain poor for ever".
Only a handful of Pasquini's
keyboard works were published during
his lifetime. Most of them have come
down to us in two manuscripts, mostly
in his own handwriting, which are preserved
in Berlin and London respectively.
In his compositions
Pasquini often links up with the style
of Frescobaldi, in particular in those
pieces which consist of a sequence of
short contrasting sections, held together
by the use of the same thematic material.
During his compositional career he moved
toward a more concise structure, although
he kept the 'monothematic' principle
While Pasquini's earliest
works, all included in the Berlin manuscript,
are predominantly polyphonic, his later
compositions are more homophonic or
chordal, whereas in some he gives prominence
to one particular part.
A very peculiar part
of Pasquini's output are 28 sonatas
of which only the bass line is written
down. The player has to improvise the
other parts. Half of these 'basso continuo
sonatas' are for two keyboards. These
compositions seem to be written for
didactic purposes, since they are included
in the London manuscript which contains
didactic material for Pasquini's nephew
and pupil Bernardo Ricordati.
As welcome as this
recording is in regard to the repertoire,
I feel that an opportunity has been
missed to put Pasquini firmly on the
map of music history. The combination
of Italian music and an Italian keyboard
player of the reputation of Roberto
Loreggian seems an ideal one, but strangely
enough I missed the temperament which
I believe a performer of this kind of
music needs, and which I had expected
from Loreggian. But his playing seems
rather cool and distant to me.
Although I think some
tempi are too slow, it is in particular
the lack of contrast between the sections
within a composition which I find disappointing.
Another aspect which I noticed is the
inconsistency in phrasing. Whereas the
phrasing in the 'Variationi capricciose'
is beautifully shaped, in the preceding
item (Passagagli in G) it is somewhat
unstructured, due to a lack of breathing
spaces between phrases.
The playing of some
pieces is rather wooden, and lacks rhythmic
flair, like the 'Tre arie'. The 'basso
continuo sonata' is realised much better,
though. In the playing of the bass line
as composed by Pasquini Loreggian is
joined by the cellist Francesco Ferrarini,
who plays with great panache.
Another positive feature
of this recording is the use of the
spinet, an instrument which isn't getting
the attention it deserves in recordings
of Italian keyboard music of the 17th
century. Considering the remark in the
liner notes that the title of the Berlin
manuscript - 'Sonate per Gravicembalo'
- which gave this disc its title, doesn't
imply that all works are intended exclusively
to be played on the harpsichord, it
is a little disappointing that some
of the items have not been played at
I would like to recommend
this disc with caution - it is recommendable
for those who want to get acquainted
with the keyboard music of Bernardo
Pasquini, but for those who just want
to enjoy a really compelling performance
of Italian keyboard music this may not
be the first choice.
Johan van Veen
see also review
by Ian Lace