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Cembalo Paradiso
see track listing below review
Anna Paradiso (harpsichord)
Josef Cabrales, Jonas Lindgård (violin)*, Henrik Frendin (viola)*, Mats Olofsson (cello)*, Tomas Gertonsson (double bass)*
rec. December 2011-February 2012, Musukaliska, Stockholm andLänna Church, Sweden. DDD

Anna Paradiso was born in Italy and was first educated as a pianist. She then turned her attention to the harpsichord, following an academic career at the same time. After having received a post-doctorate she decided to concentrate fully on a career in music. She is the harpsichordist of the ensemble Paradiso Musicale whose disc "The Father, the Son and the Godfather" was reviewed here. She seems to have taken the right decision, as this disc shows. She plays three instruments: copies of a harpsichord by Blanchet (1730), of a Neapolitan harpsichord from around 1650 and of an anonymous Flemish instrument from the late 17th century.
This is probably Ms Paradiso's first recording as a soloist, and the programme is quite remarkable for a debut disc. Obviously some of the best-known and most frequently-performed composers, such as Domenico Scarlatti, Girolamo Frescobaldi and Johann Jacob Froberger, are represented. However, the selection of pieces by Alessandro Scarlatti and Pietro Domenico Paradies is far less conventional. The most unusual choice is the Concertino by Walter Leigh.
The programme opens with the Sonata in d minor (K 141) by Domenico Scarlatti. It is one of his best-known, an exuberant piece whose percussionistic passages show the influence of Iberian music. Ms Paradiso delivers an anything but straightforward performance, thanks to a well-dosed rubato and giving full weight to the various pauses. If one then listens to the Folia variations from the Toccata VII by his father, one understands the source of his talent. Alessandro's keyboard music is the most neglected part of his oeuvre, and it cannot be appreciated enough that Ms Paradiso takes it seriously. In New Grove Malcolm Boyd does this repertoire great unjustice by calling it "pupil fodder".
Another connection between composers is illustrated by the pieces by Frescobaldi and Froberger. The latter comes first, with his Toccata in a minor which comprises a sequence of contrasting sections with various sudden pauses. This piece is a specimen of the stylus phantasticus which had been developed in Italy in the early 17th century. Frescobaldi was one of its founding fathers, and these two toccatas from his pen are ample illustrations of his influence on Froberger. Ms Paradiso is wrong, by the way, when in her liner-notes she states that today Froberger is "thoroughly underestimated". In fact he is one of the most frequently-performed composers of keyboard music from the 17th century and his oeuvre is well represented on disc.
As I already indicated the choice of a sonata by Pietro Domenico Paradies or Paradisi is rather unusual. He was from Naples and a pupil of Porpora. In 1746 he settled in London. The Sonata VII in B flat is from a set of twelve which was published there in 1754 and enjoyed various reprints until 1790. The whole set has been recorded by Filippo Emanuele Ravizza (review). Paradisi composed in the galant idiom, but various movements include episodes of a contrasting character. The allegro from this sonata turns to a pretty dark mood in the second half.
French music is also represented. Jean-Henry d'Anglebert was a pupil of Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, who is considered the father of the French harpsichord school. D'Anglebert's music is heavily indebted to the style brisé of the French lute school. The three pieces from the 3e Suite in d minor are different in character. The first is an improvisatory prélude non mesuré, the second an allemande of a quiet, rather majestic character, whereas the courante is the most brilliant of the three. Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer is one of the late representatives of the French harpsichord school. His keyboard works are strongly influenced by opera, and include transcriptions of pieces from his own operas. Le Vertigo is an example of a character piece, a genre which has been very popular in France since the late 17th century. During the 18th century this kind of pieces became increasingly extraverted and virtuosic. Le Vertigo means 'the capricious', and that is well expressed in the music, which contains strong contrasts in tempo and Affekt. It is also one of Royer's most 'tumultuous' pieces, with heavy and frequently repeated chords at high speed. Ms Paradiso delivers a brilliant performance.
Lastly, two compositions for harpsichord and strings. The Concerto in f minor (BWV 1056) is one of Johann Sebastian Bach's best-known harpsichord concertos. Anna Paradiso sees the first movement as an expression of great unsettlement, "a troubled mind and a distorted voice". That is how she plays the piece, at a pretty high speed, agitated, with much rubato. One wonders if her interpretation would have been different if she had followed Aapo Häkkinen's example who played this concerto in the key of G minor which is the key of Bach's own revised version - his recording was reviewed here. After all, the description of these two keys by Johann Mattheson is very different. The slow movement is ornamented with beautifully-played trills. In the last movement Ms Paradiso plays an extended cadenza. I am not sure whether that is in line with Bach's intentions. The strings play well; they use baroque instruments but I feel that their characteristics are not fully explored here.
Obviously such instruments are not required in the Concertino for harpsichord and strings by Walter Leigh. It dates from 1934 and was written under the influence of the emerging early music movement in which the Dolmetsch family and their friends played a crucial role. Ms Paradiso uses the score which was once owned by Carl Dolmetsch's harpsichordist for many years, Joseph Saxby. It is full of dynamic indications which is to be expected as the solo part was written for the then dominant kind of harpsichord, including pedals which allowed dynamic changes during play. It is the kind of harpsichord we know from Wanda Landowska's recordings. A performance at the French harpsichord is not 'authentic' as Ms Paradiso admits. I am not sure whether Leigh intended the string parts to be performed with one instrument per part as is the case here. The balance between the 'baroque' harpsichord and the modern strings is a little problematic, even in this 'minimalist' approach. This is not my kind of music, but its presence shows Ms Paradiso's enterprising mind. That also comes to the fore in the intelligent liner-notes which offer interesting remarks about performance practice.
To sum up, this is a very fine debut by a harpsichordist of whom I hope to hear more. This interesting and well-played programme should be attractive to all lovers of the harpsichord.
Johan van Veen

Track listing
Sonata in d minor (K 141) [4:19]
Walter LEIGH (1905-1942)
Concertino for harpsichord and strings* [9:18]
Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Toccata in a minor (FbWV 112) [3:46]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Toccata VII, 1° tono. Toccata per cembalo d'ottava stesa:
Folia [7:13]
Pietro Domenico PARADIES (PARADISI) (1707-1791)
Sonata VII in B flat [8:02]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Toccata VIII (1615) [4:42]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in f minor (BWV 1056)* [12:59]
Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691)
3e Suite in d minor:
Prélude [4:05]
Allemande [5:17]
Courante [1:25]
Toccata VII (1615) [4:30]
Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace ROYER (1705-1755)
Le Vertigo, rondeau [5:43]