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Giovanni Battista MARTINI (1706-1784)
Sacred Vocal Music - Keyboard Sonatas

Toccata I [01:36]
Beatus vir [04:08]
Cantate Domino [03:09]
Sonata I per il Cembalo [08:34]
Sonata II per l'Organo [05:31]
Sonata III per il Cembalo [08:47]
Sonata IV per l'Organo [05:54]
Sonata V per il Cembalo [08:16]
Sonata VI per l'Organo [05:09]
Os justi [01:30]
Sonata al post communio sui Flauti [03:28]
Sonata sui Flauti II [02:30]
Mihi autem [01:37]
Toccata III [01:31]
Toccata per il Deo Gratias [02:36]
Oscar Milani, harpsichord*; Norbert Düchtel, organ**
Freiburger Domkapelle***; Raimund Hug, positive organ
Dir: Boris Böhmann
Recorded in November 2002 at the Concert Hall of the Conservatory of Dinkelsbühl (*), March 2003 at the Convent Schwarzenberg (**) & May 2003 at the Abbey of Oberried (***), Germany DDD
ARS MUSICI AM 1368-2 [64:25]

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Giovanni Battista Martini may be one of the best-known personalities in the history of music, generally referred to as 'Padre Martini'. His fame is mainly due to his theoretical writings and the fact that he was the teacher of famous composers like Johann Christian Bach, André Ernest Modeste Grétry, Niccolò Jommelli and Mozart. Very few people know his own compositions.

The common opinion seems to be that he was an old-fashioned and unimaginative musician, who was a brilliant teacher of counterpoint, but hopelessly out of touch with the taste of his time. The more one knows about his own music, the more one has to acknowledge that this view is at least one-sided. Some of his compositions are firmly rooted in the style of the baroque, others are much more up-to-date. In the booklet of this disc Norbert Düchtel points out that there is a clear difference between the 12 keyboard sonatas of 1742, which are Padre Martini's best-known compositions for harpsichord and organ, and the 6 sonatas of 1747, which are recorded here. In the sonatas of 1742 Martini "keeps strictly to the style of the trio sonata, adhering to contrapuntal guidelines at all times." But in the collection of 1747 the sonatas alternate between a free succession of two or three movements, most of them are not introduced by a prelude and fugue as the sonatas of the collection of 1742, and two-part writing is dominant, with hardly any counterpoint. It seems Martini wasn't that old-fashioned after all.

In his own time Martini was also admired for his vocal compositions. During a visit in Bologna Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf was invited by Martini to play during festivities in his church. During the Vespers a Magnificat by Martini was performed, which ended with an Amen in the form of an eight-part fugue. Dittersdorf was deeply impressed by the majestic and solemn style of Martini's composition. It was a good idea to include some vocal items here, but it is a shame only very short pieces have been selected. On the basis of these it is difficult to imagine how Martini's contemporaries could be so impressed. It has to be said, though, that the performance isn't very helpful to increase the reputation of Padre Martini as a composer of religious music. The relationship between text and music is pointed out in the booklet, but in the actual performance little of that comes through.

Fortunately the performance of the keyboard music is of a higher level. The organ sonatas are well played, energetic and lively, but it would have been better if a historical Italian organ, with the appropriate tuning, had been used. The organ in the Schwarzenberg convent has been built in 1989 and isn't the ideal medium for this kind of music. The harpsichord sonatas are played on a German two-manual instrument, which has been chosen to realise the 'intended dynamics'. I am not very happy with this choice either, as there is a real difference between German and Italian instruments. If no Italian two-manual harpsichord could be found, then perhaps it could have been considered to use a fortepiano. The playing is alright, but is a little lacking in imagination.

To sum up, an interesting recording which should correct the image of Padre Martini as a dry theorist, out of touch with his time, but musically not entirely satisfying. One can only hope that one day a top-class ensemble will take the initiative to record some of Martini's best sacred music.

Johan van Veen

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