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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Toccata and fugue in g minor [8:57]
Toccata in G 'Del Sassone' [3:06]
[IV Sonate per il Cembalo fatte par la Real Delfina di Francia]
Sonata I in A [10:22]
Sonata II in G [10:26]
Sonata III in F [14:51]
Sonata IV in A [5:45]
Prelude in B flat [3:19]
Sonata in G [13:39]
Luca Guglielmo (harpsichord)
rec. 9-10 May 2011, Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena, Piano Audi, Corio (Turin), Italy. DDD
ACCENT ACC 24255 [70:35]

During the second and third quarters of the 18th century Johann Adolf Hasse was one of the most celebrated opera composers in Europe. Together with his wife Faustina Bordoni he performed his operas across the continent. His output in this genre is huge and is not fully explored as yet. He also composed a large quantity of oratorios and sacred liturgical music. His vocal output has largely overshadowed his contributions to various genres of instrumental music, among them music for keyboard. Hasse came from a family of keyboard players and the harpsichord played a significant role in his life.
The fact that his keyboard works have remained largely unnoticed is partly due to the fact that he never published any of them. Two collections are known: a series of six sonatas printed in London and six concertos for keyboard solo. However, it is unlikely that Hasse himself had anything to do with their publication. His keyboard works are preserved in many archives and libraries across Europe and a number of pieces have been included in anthologies of the 18th century. It shows that they were greatly appreciated.
The present disc includes a survey of this part of Hasse's oeuvre; the programme is ordered chronologically. It starts with the Toccata and fugue in G which dates from his time in Naples. Here he met Alessandro Scarlatti and was for some time his pupil. His teacher's influence becomes quite clear in this piece, especially in the toccata with its brilliant passage work. If you know Alessandro Scarlatti's keyboard music - for instance in recordings by Rinaldo Alessandrini (Arcana, 1992) or Alexander Weimann (review) - you will recognize the stylistic similarities. The next piece, another Toccata in G, is interesting in that it is also attributed to Handel. The manuscript simply says Del Sassone, "by the Saxon". Il Sassone was the name given in Italy to Handel and later to Hasse. On stylistic grounds it is presumed that this piece came from Handel's pen; it is included as Capriccio under HWV 571 in the Handel catalogue.
Next follow four sonatas which Hasse composed for "the Royal Dauphine of France". He knew her well: she was Maria Josepha, the daughter of August III, King of Poland and Saxon Elector, who for many years was Hasse's employer. She married the French heir to the throne, the later King Louis XVI. The taste at the court in Dresden was Italian, and therefore it comes as little surprise that these four sonatas are Italian in style. They reflect the galant idiom which was dominant in the mid-18th century. As Hasse visited Paris in 1750 these sonatas must have been written shortly before. Luca Guglielmi has chosen a French harpsichord for these sonatas. This results in an interesting confrontation of instrument and idiom. Hasse may not be a household name in the keyboard repertoire of the 18th century, and galant music may have the reputation of being rather lightweight, but these sonatas are substantial. They have much to offer and are well suited to repeated listening. That is also down to Guglielmo's brilliant playing which holds the listener's attention.
The disc ends with a sonata of a later date. The liner-notes are silent as to when it was written - it is probably not known anyway - but its central movement, called cantabile, is characterised as "ultimately approaching an almost Mozartian sensitivity". It reminds me of some later keyboard works by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and the texture seems to suggest dynamic indications which Guglielmo realises by alternating between the two manuals. I could imagine this sonata being played on an early fortepiano as well, for instance an instrument by Silbermann. That would definitely be an intriguing option. The closing allegro has clear orchestral traces; it could almost be a transcription of a movement from a solo concerto or symphony. It is played with panache.
Guglielmo makes a great impression throughout. He shows much sensitivity to the stylistic features and to the development charted from first work to last. That is also reflected in his choice of instruments. I have already mentioned the French harpsichord he plays in the four sonatas: it is a copy of an instrument by Goujon from 1749, extended in 1784. The first two items are played on a copy of an Italian harpsichord from 1726, and the last piece on a copy of a German instrument by Christian Vater from 1738.
This is a highly interesting disc and sheds light on a lesser-known part of Hasse's oeuvre. Moreover, it is brilliantly played on stylistically appropriate instruments. If you like harpsichord music, this is an essential addition to your collection.
Johan van Veen