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Carlos de SEIXAS (1704-1742)
Harpsichord Sonatas - Volume 1

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

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This, the first volume of the harpsichord sonatas by Carlos de Seixas, shows very good production and performance values; no surprise for those already familiar with Naxosís formidable raft of other recordings of composers familiar and unfamiliar.

Seixas, born in Coimbra, Portugal, was quite prolific for his short life. The sonatas, which are of the sound and style of Scarlatti, are both enjoyable and virtuosic. Some of them - numbers 19, 24 and 44 in particular - demand that the performer executes hand-crossing and wide chordal jumps, which Halasz accomplishes with seeming ease.

Seixas, something of a prodigy, succeeded his father (at 14!) as organist of Coimbra cathedral. Word evidently got around, and two years later he was organist of the Chapel Royal and Patriarchal Cathedral in Lisbon. It is estimated, as the liner notes indicate, that some 700 works were committed to paper, but the catastrophic earthquake that Portugal suffered in 1755 may have contributed greatly to the relatively small number of works that survive. No original manuscripts exist.

Of the sonatas that have come down to us, Sonata 18 is quite enjoyable, from its brooding opening Largo to its sprightly Bach-Scarlatti melding in the following Allegro. The nasal Adagio serves as a less-than-half-minute palate cleanser before the gigue-like final Allegro.

Sonata 34 is a delight, spinning off and throwing sparks. Scarlatti, a contemporary of Seixas, served as an instructor for the younger master. Scholarly discussion remains regarding their mutual influence. This brilliant sonata, with its thunderous chord changes in the first movement and its delicate minuet, is certainly a feather in Seixasís cap.

Another great standout is the comparatively epic sonata number 10 in C, with its 13-minute first movement, lasting longer, on average, than two or three of the other sonatas combined. This opening Allegro spends far more effort in development of the thematic material. While not as technically demanding from a virtuosic standpoint, it is noteworthy in its repetition and insistent drawing out of the originally rather sunny statements. The subtle variation in sound over the duration of certain passages that Halász draws from the instrument made me curious as to whether these were due to use of knee pedals or just how many registers the instrument had. Little information is given in the booklet regarding the specifications, save that it is a copy of a German instrument by Hass. Glyn Pursglove, in his earlier review of this disc , indicated that the original from which this new instrument was copied may be housed at the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels. Various forays into their website and elsewhere for other instruments made by Hass were inconclusive. The Hass instruments I was able to lay my eyes on didnít appear to have knee pedals or hand stops, so this point shall remain a mystery for the time being. Regardless, I agree with Pursglove that this is a very fine-sounding instrument. Halászís performance here is deft and demands attention.

David Blomenberg

see also review by Glyn Pursglove


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