Manuel BLASCO DE NEBRA (1750-1784)
Complete Piano Works, Vol.1

Seis sonatas para taclado (Six sonatas for keyboard) :-
Sonata 107 in G major [4:22]
Sonata 108 in E minor [2:46]
Sonata 109 in A minor [2:21]
Sonata 110 in D major [4:03]
Sonata 111 in A major [4:13]
Sonata 112 in C minor [2:15]
Seis pastorelas para fuerte piano (Six pastorelas for pianoforte):-
Pastorela No.1 in G major [8:55]
Pastorela No.2 in F major [8:10]
Pastorela No.3 in A minor [7:14]
Pastorela No.4 in B minor [7:41]
Pastorela No.5 in C major [9:01]
Pastorela No.6 in E minor [8:57]
Pedro Piquero (piano)
rec. 8-9 September 2008, Conservatorio Victoria de los Angeles, Madrid
COLUMNA MÚSICA 1CM0219 [71:31]

Given the relative obscurity of his music - he merits only a brief paragraph in the latest edition of Grove - Manuel Blasco de Nebra has received a surprising amount of attention from keyboard players and recording companies in the last few years.

Blasco de Nebra was born, and died, in Seville. His family was well established in Spanish musical life; his father, for example, was made organist of Seville Cathedral in 1735 and his uncle José Nebra (1702-1768), was a Madrid-based composer and organist whose pupils included Antonio Soler. He soon acquired a considerable contemporary reputation as a performer on the organ and the harpsichord, as well as on the developing piano. He was also said to have remarkable abilities as a sight-reader of complex scores. In 1768 he was made assistant organist to his father and in 1778 he was created titular organist at the Cathedral. There seems to be no available information as to the cause of his early death. Until relatively recently only a few compositions were known, but recent decades have seen the rediscovery of more works in Spanish monastic libraries. There may be more yet to be found.

Listening to Blasco de Nebra’s work one hears affinities with Scarlatti and with Soler, but also with non-Spanish influences such as C.P.E. Bach. He makes fair demands of the performer and his rhythmic inventiveness is often surprising and captivating. The evocative (but not very informative) booklet notes by a contemporary composer of Seville, José Luís Greco, speak of Blasco de Nebra’s in terms such as “elegance … tenderness, sweetness, fantasy and languor”. That seems about right. This is quirky, individual music - for all the affinities mentioned above - represented here by six one-movement sonatas, and a set of six ‘pastorelas’, each in three movements and each made up of an adagio, a pastorela and a closing minuet.

In 2002 the excellent Carole Cerasi recorded (Metronome CD 1064) a selection of Blasco de Nebra’s sonatas and pastorelas, playing some pieces on a harpsichord of 1785 by Joachim Jozé Antunes and others on a 1793 piano by Sebastian Lengerer. Though there is much to enjoy on the disc - including the sound-world of the harpsichord she uses - I’m not sure that Cerasi consistently captures the poetry of Blasco de Nebra’s music, and she isn’t all that well served by a sound quality that might be more vivid. It is, though, good to hear this music on something like the instruments which the composer must have had in mind. Naxos has issued two volumes (8.572068 and 8.572069) of Pedro Casals’s recording of the Complete Keyboard Sonatas; the third and final disc is due to be issued in January 2010. Casals plays a modern piano, as does Pedro Piquero on this Columna Música issue – which also appears to be the first volume of a complete set. Both Casals and Piquero play with a sure-footed and sure-fingered understanding of the idiom; both temper the resources of the modern piano in ways that are appropriate to the music. If anything Piquero seems to have, very slightly, the edge in responsiveness, in the articulation of the rapidly changing moods of the music. But both are very well worth hearing - as, for the reasons suggested above, is Cerasi’s disc. If you want only one CD of Blasco de Nebra’s music, then this is probably the one to get – since it contains six of the composer’s delightful pastorelas - which contain some of his loveliest inventions - while Casals limits himself to the sonatas.

I cannot resist quoting some sentences from the booklet notes by José Luís Greco: “I have no idea as to the cause of Manuel Blasco de Nebra’s untimely death. I could well imagine that, at his very last, he fancied himself swooning, mesmerised by the lazy flow of the Guadalquivir, dreaming of a music whose tenderness caressed his soul like a tear caresses the cheek, and with the weightlessness of a feather falling onto water, he became one with his reflection rocked by the gentle waves”. Such writing may not be the norm in these musicologically correct days, but one can well understand how the beauty and expressiveness of Blasco de Nebra’s keyboard writing might prompt it.

Glyn Pursglove