Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Piano Sonatas (1783)
No.1 in F [10:18]
No.2 in C [11:09]
No.3 in B flat [10:47]
No.4 in G [8:29]
No.5 in D [9:48]
No.6 in E flat [14:14]
Francesco Giammarco (piano)
rec.10-15 May 1990, Studio Sintesi, Venice. DDD
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802120 [67:25]
It is only fair to say that this is, in most respects, somewhat minor music. It is minor in terms of Cherubini’s achievements as a composer; the great Cherubini is found in the operas and the sacred music, not here in this early music in a genre he didn’t later explore - the cover picture of a middle-aged Cherubini is misleading. It is minor in terms of the music which the term ‘piano sonatas’ evokes; there is little here that bears comparison with, say, the Mozart and Haydn piano sonatas of the 1770s and 1780s, let alone those of Beethoven from the mid 1790s. In a way the very term sends out the wrong signals, sets up inappropriate expectations. The first edition speaks of these as works for the ‘cimbalo’, which is perhaps too wide a term on which to base any judgement as to whether this music should be played on a fortepiano or a harpsichord. Here it is played on a modern piano. ‘Piano sonata’ perhaps tempts us to judge - not perhaps fully consciously - this music as though it belonged to that tradition, rather than to more Italian keyboard tradition that runs through, say Tommaso Giordani (born around1730), Cimarosa (born in 1749), Clementi (just eight years older than Cherubini) or, indeed, Cherubini’s teacher in Milan at the time he wrote these pieces, Giuseppe Sarti (born in 1729).
All six sonatas are in two movements - marked, with slight variations, ‘moderato’ and ‘rondo’ - and it has to be said that they are also minor, in their limited emotional depth and intellectual range. This is not music that challenges the listener; but it is lucid and elegant and mostly holds the interest. The fourth sonata certainly does, its initial moderato bubbling along attractively, with pensive moments for reflection. Its ensuing rondo andantino is perhaps as near as theses sonatas come to inviting real introspection - perhaps more than Francesco Giammarco brings to his playing of the movement. The sixth sonata is on a rather larger scale than those that go before it. The nine and a half minutes of its opening ‘allegro spiritoso’ have some slightly unexpected harmonic touches and a sense of a mind beginning to work in larger structures, while its rondo has some appealing passage work.
Historically this music belongs to a key - no pun intended - period in the development of keyboard instruments. Whether the modern piano is entirely suitable for this music is doubtful. When Christopher Hogwood prepared a new edition of these sonatas (published in 2010), an edition stripped of the many pianistic markings which later editions had added, he suggested that they might be played on fortepiano, harpsichord, square piano or even clavichord. The sonatas have been recorded on the fortepiano, and I am inclined to feel that that is the perhaps the most appropriate of instruments for their characteristics. However, Francesco Giammarco, it should be said, largely resists any temptation to inflate the music, concentrating on line rather than the expressive use of dynamics. The result is pleasant listening, even if this is music whose interest is primarily historical. It represents an intriguing stage in the development of the keyboard repertoire and in the work of a composer born and brought up in Florence, the city which played such an important role in the development of keyboard instruments in this period.
Glyn Pursglove 

Pleasant, if largely unchallenging music, of some considerable historical interest.