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Jose Antonio Carlos de SEIXAS (1704-42)
Harpsichord Sonatas, Volume 1:-
Sonata No.36 in E minor [8:13]
Sonata No.19 in D major [3:46]
Sonata No.18 in C minor [5:30]
Sonata No.34 in E major [3:46]
Sonata No.44 in F minor [3:18]
Sonata No.43 in F minor [3:47]
Sonata No.24 in D minor [1:57]
Sonata No.27 in D minor [4:54]
Sonata No.42 in F minor [4:02]
Sonata No.37 in E minor [3:22]
Sonata No.57 in A major [9:22]
Sonata No.10 in C major [15:16]
Sonata No.50 in G minor [3:50]
Débora Halász (harpsichord)
rec. Festsaal des Reitstadels, Neumarkt, Germany, 22-24 April 2003.
NAXOS 8.557459 [71:02]

Given that Seixas was a younger colleague of Domenico Scarlatti - who was some nineteen years older - at the Royal Chapel in Lisbon for several years in the 1720s, and given that he too wrote a substantial series of keyboard sonatas, it has often been assumed that Seixas’s music was essentially modelled on that of the older Italian. That is too simple a point of view and does less than justice to Seixas.
When a mere fourteen years old, Seixas became organist of the Cathedral in his birthplace Coimbra, in succession to his father. Only two years later, in 1720 he was summoned to Lisbon, as organist at the Royal Chapel, a post he held until his early death.
One early authority on Seixas, the Biblioteca Lusitana of 1747, says that he composed over 700 keyboard sonatas; Seixas seems to have used the terms sonata and toccata with little or no difference of meaning. Less than a hundred now survive – none of them in autograph manuscripts. Perhaps the famous Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed manuscripts of many sonatas?
For a number of reasons, including this absence of original manuscripts, Seixas’s compositions cannot be dated. A series such as this, which will seek to record the complete Harpsichord Sonatas cannot, therefore, adopt a chronological approach. Déborah Halász and Naxos seem wisely to have decided, on the evidence of this first volume, to make each album a kind of miniature anthology, mixing work of different styles and lengths. It’s along the same lines as Gilbert Rowland’s collections of Soler’s Sonatas for harpsichord, also on Naxos.
Naturally, there are moments when one hears similarities to Scarlatti – in, for example, the opening allegro of No.27, a rapid piece with wide leaps, the presto which opens No.34, or the first movement – another allegro – of No.10. But elsewhere on this first CD in the series there are movements that sound more like anticipations of C.P.E. Bach, as in the minuets that form the second movements of Nos. 18 and 27. None of these suggestions are made with any intention of denying that Seixas has a musical personality of his own. Rather they are used as reference points in trying to get a sense of that personality – which seems to occupy a kind of subliminal territory at the transition from what we think of as Scarlatti’s manner to that of the proto-classicism of the mid-Eighteenth Century. It is significant that where Scarlatti was largely content to work in single-movement forms, Seixas seems equally happy to construct sonatas in two, three and four movements. At times - e.g. No. 18 – he seems to be working on the model of the baroque suite; at other times – e.g.  No. 57 - we seem to be on the way to the three-movement classical sonata.
There is some technically demanding writing here – but then Seixas was apparently a considerable virtuoso himself. Sonata No. 50, with its chromatic progressions and incisive rhythms makes many demands on the soloist; so does No. 19, with its rapid crossing of hands. Déborah  Halász seems largely unabashed by these difficulties and unafraid to set herself some very rapid tempos.
Seixas is - for his period - uncommonly fond of minor keys and their use gives a distinctive quality to some of his slower movements, in particular. All in all, there is much to admire and enjoy here.
Déborah Halász plays what is described as “a copy of a 1734 Hass harpsichord, built by Lutz Werum in Germany”. Is the original perhaps the instrument of that date made by Hieronymus Albrecht Hass of Hamburg, which is now in the Brussels Museum of Musical Instruments? Certainly it is a fine-sounding instrument, the resources of which Halász exploits with understanding and sensitivity.
This is a promising start to a very worthwhile project, and I look forward to future volumes. And what an attractive cover – a view of Coimbra by the English watercolourist James Holland.

Glyn Pursglove


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