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Baldassarre GALUPPI (1702-1785)
Sonata in G major “Del Signor Buranello” Levi CD B 130 [3:51]
Sonata in C major [10:52]
Sonata in D minor [8:44]
Sonata in B flat major [9:21]
Sonata in C minor [11:19]
Sonata in A minor [6:19]
Sonata in B flat major “Sonata a Cimbelo del Sig.r  Baldassar Galuppi” Levi CF C 26 [14:40]
Sonata in B flat major “Buranello All.o” Levi CF C 26 [4:33]
Andrea Bacchetti (piano)
rec. Fazioli Concert Hall, Selice, Italy, 2007
RCA-BMG RED SEAL 88697367932 [68:50]
 

 

 

 

Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1843)
Sonata in F major [11:24]
Sonata in C major [11:35]
Sonata in B flat major [12:48]
Sonata in G major [13:49]
Sonata in D major [11:59]
Sonata in E flat major [13:58] 
Andrea Bacchetti (piano) 
rec. Fazioli Concert Hall, Selice, Italy, 18-19 July 2006
RCA-BMG RED SEAL 88697057742 [75:35]

 

Experience Classicsonline


The piano sonata, or rather the secular solo keyboard sonata, is a form which was founded and began to crystallise in that bridge between what today is broadly recognised as the Baroque and the early Classical period in European music. It probably shouldn’t be so much of a surprise to see two composers who are primarily recognised as the creators of opera or other vocal works putting their hand to such instrumental pieces, but both of these names are in unfamiliar territory in this genre. I for one had barely realised that Baldassarre Galuppi had written for the keyboard, but on searching for alternatives had my memory jogged by seeing his name paired with that of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who recorded a small handful of these sonatas way back in the 1960s.

It is intriguing to hear the grand old master create poetry from these deceptively simple sounding pieces, but, like Grieg’s Lyrische Stücke as played by Emil Gilels, he showed how you could buck the trend for barnstorming romanticism and technical bravura, and move an audience with often neglected or under-rated miniature gems. In his carefully selected programme, Andrea Bacchetti has not only brought us some admirable up to date recordings, but has also been busy creating a new edition of the Galuppi sonatas from the original manuscripts, together with Mario Marcarini. The latter’s booklet notes are available in complete form in a pdf file on the CD disc, and provide not only an education in their own right, but also have elegant and readable descriptions and brief analyses of each sonata; the whole thing coming out of my printer in 6 closely typed pages. A few paragraph indents would have helped with the readability of the main text, but the translation has been well prepared – something the importance of which should not be underestimated.

This is quiet, refined music of the utmost poise and lyricism. The two-part opening of the first sonata in the collection is almost naively simple, and Bacchetti emphasises this with a restrained tempo and a minimum of ornamentation. What this does is effectively draw us into a different world – one in which the musical associations are of a different order to the complexities and dramas of opera, and anticipation of a more intense instrumental discourse and argument. All is order and formality, like a beautifully kept garden – the occasional asymmetrical pattern of nature, like the flight of a butterfly, only serving to highlight the elegance of the curves and shapes of an otherwise perfect man-made architecture. Marcarini refers to similarities to arias in Mozart and other operas, and contemporary listeners will no doubt have recognised any likeness to hits of the day in these pieces. The slower movements could however as easily be beautifully turned formal dances, and to modern ears these pieces have the quality of a balm on troubled times.

The Venetian Galuppi’s name has been overshadowed by that of Vivaldi both in the past and today, but fans of the famous musical priest can find music of equal quality in these recordings. The plangent Andantino of the Sonata in D minor is a case in point. The pattern of these sonatas is almost invariably a slow movement followed by a fast or faster movement, and in this way we are assured of plenty of contrast and pizzazz in Bacchetti’s pianism. As in his Bach, some of the passing runs between notes go at superhuman speed, but the essential regularity of the rhythm is well maintained, and Bacchetti is less overtly improvisational – keeping well within the bounds of style gallant sensibilities, which would have seen patrons fainting at the thought of anything so brutal as over-emphasised dissonances or extrovert displays beyond acceptable parameters. The Fazioli piano used in the recording has a sweet. mellow tone, and the acoustic of the Fazioli Concert Hall is fairly dry, so we have an intimate sense of the music removed from any kind of extrovert showmanship.

Arguments over whether this music should be played on a harpsichord can be had elsewhere. The ability of the modern grand to allow for dynamic as well as lyrical shape is part of the essence of this recording, and to my mind perfectly appropriate in this context. Andrea Bacchetti’s view of these pieces might indeed be seen as more romantic than authentic, but in this way he is bringing it into the 21st century rather than dusting off and attempting to reproduce artefacts preserved in amber. His skill is in balancing the idiom of the time the pieces were written against the human expression brought forth by the music – something which would surely have been as identifiable then as it is now.

A similar sense of scholarly humanism surrounds Andrea Bacchetti’s SACD hybrid disc of Luigi Cherubini’s 6 Sonatas. Quite by chance I was embarking on this double review when Michael Cookson’s list of recommended Cherubini recordings popped up, and I was interested to note there were no keyboard discs at all among his selections. Where it appears that Galuppi’s sonatas appeared towards the end of his career, the six sonatas by Cherubini were published when the composer was a promising 23 year old. This was his first publication, and it would be another fifty years before his string quartets appeared, the intervening years being take up with the production of operas and religious choral works. In this release, Mario Marcarini’s booklet notes are printed in the booklet in their entirety, and they provide plenty of useful historical context for this “isolated episode in the Florentine composer’s aesthetic career”.

As one of a later generation of composers, it is not surprising that Cherubini’s sonatas are more substantial than those of Galuppi, though the two-movement pattern is maintained in essence. There is however a great deal more variety within the movements. Development of material is more thorough, and there are plenty of little surprising twists and turns – mini-cadenzas, grammatical pauses and variations to tease the ear, even when the material is often not so very far removed from that of Galuppi in terms of technical content. Stylistically there are inevitable differences, with the left hand often chugging along with a fairly straightforward Alberti bass, but the sparkle and inventiveness of the melodies which these accompany is quite infectious. These pieces are representative of a move away from the more typical dance forms from the suites of days gone by – such as minuets, gavottes and polonaises. This allows greater freedom of expression, and a more purely abstract musical approach which anticipates the attitudes of the Romanic era.

Andrea Bacchetti’s playing in the Cherubini sonatas takes all of these aspects of the music into consideration, and he pays with great aplomb and wit, maintaining the ongoing musical narrative in a coherent and cohesive way, but without missing the built-in moments of innovation and virtuoso Mozartean fashion. Once again, the piano sound and acoustic of the Fazioli Concert Hall, which is built like a theatre especially for the piano, is entirely appropriate for the music. The SACD effect is pleasant but un-dramatic, giving the piano a slightly brighter balance than on the Galuppi disc, whose mild mid-range thickness might take a little getting used to on some systems. The surround recording provides more acoustic information and gives more the feeling of your being in an audience of one, rather than being a microphone on the stage. This is certainly of benefit to the overall impression, but again, it is not a make or break aspect of this disc. Both of these discs are however excellent advertisements for the Fazioli piano brand. The instrument(s) used on these recordings show a fine balance of clarity in the sound, and a rich sustain and excellent tone through every register, and Bacchetti has no problems drawing a much as possible out of the music with a deftness and transparency of touch which makes these discs something of a must for all collectors of good piano recordings.

There is little competition in the catalogue for either of these discs. The project by the Divine Art label to record all of Galuppi’s sonatas on 10 volumes seems to have stopped at volume three, though this is certainly of interest to anyone wanting to seek further in this repertoire. While there are a few alternatives to the Cherubini on harpsichord or fortepiano, these are not exactly thick on the ground, so Andrea Bacchetti’s entirely delightful recordings are very much a welcome addition to the catalogue. Beyond that, both of these recordings offer a kind of refuge from the kind of sensual battering you can sometimes feel overcoming you in life and through the media. Simple can be better, less is often more, and with a durability comparable to the little worlds of Don Camillo, the synergy between the four Italian masters of Galuppi, Cherubini, Fazioli and Bacchetti, is something we can now all allow to have their gentle effect on our over-heated lives.

Dominy Clements






 


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