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Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697 - 1763)
Sonata No. 8 in c minor [10:09]
Sonata No. 7 in F [11:13]
Sonata No. 1 in D [8:14]
Sonata No. 3 in F [11:36]
Sonata No. 4 in g minor [11:45]
Sonata No. 9 in G [11:25]
Sonata No. 10 in a minor [8:13]
Elaine Funaro (harpsichord (1, 3 & 4), fortepiano (7-9))
rec. October 1997, Mankato, Minnesota; January 1998 Durham, North Carolina. DDD
WILDBOAR WLBR9901 [77:20]

It is remarkable that some composers are virtually neglected for a long time and then, all of a sudden, receive much interest. That is what has happened with Giovanni Benedetto Platti. Until the beginning of this century I had hardly seen his name on disc. I can't even remember having heard any of his music, except probably one or two sonatas. In the last fifteen years or so a considerable number of recordings have been released, especially with music for oboe and for cello. Some musicologists stated that Platti was an important link between the baroque era and the classical period. This view met with much scepticism, but today his role in the mid-18th century is recognized and his music pretty well documented on disc.

Platti was born in Venice in a time when many famous masters of music were active. These included Vivaldi, the Marcello brothers, Gasparini and Albinoni. It was perhaps because he felt that under these circumstances his chances to make a career were rather slim that he moved to Germany. Here he became the principal oboist at the court of Prince-Archbishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn in Würzburg. He was held in high esteem by his new employer, who in a letter called him an "incomparable oboist". He not only played the oboe, but also the violin, the cello, the flute and the harpsichord and was active as composer and as teacher. He was the best-paid musician at the court, earning more than twice of what the Kapellmeister received.

However, in 1724, just two years after his appointment, his employer died, and his successor disbanded the court orchestra. But Platti had the fortune of having built a good relationship with the former prince-archbishop's brother, Rudolf Franz Erwein. The latter was an avid player of the cello, and this inspired Platti to write pieces with obbligato cello parts. It was thanks to this connection that he was able to spend the next years at Rudolf's court in Wiesentheid. In 1729 the new prince-archbishop of Würzburg re-established the court orchestra, which now contained no less than 49 members. Platti returned to Würzburg, and in 1732 he was appointed second violinist and Kammertenor. The appreciation of his employers through the years, his excellent salary and his marriage to Maria Theresia Lambrucker, first soprano in the court chapel, were all good reasons to stay the rest of his life in Würzburg, despite the fact that it wasn't exactly one of the main cultural centres of Germany. That did not harm his reputation: in 1764 an Italian musician reported Platti's death in a letter to Padre Martini, mentioning him in the same breath as Geminiani and Locatelli.

As I wrote, it is mostly Platti's chamber music which has received attention. Especially his sonatas for cello have appeared on disc. That is easy to understand: his contributions to the 18th-century repertoire for this instrument are substantial, largely due to the considerable skills of Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn. The latter's musical library still exists and includes some of the best music for the cello, such as sonatas by Vivaldi and Caldara. In contrast, his keyboard music is far less well-known. Platti left 18 sonatas: twelve were published in two collections of six each in Nuremberg as his Op. 1 (1742) and Op. 4 (undated) respectively, the other six have been preserved in manuscript. About ten years ago Filippo Emanuele Ravizza recorded the complete set.

There is some development within Platti's oeuvre for the keyboard. In the Op. 1 he generally prefers the four-movement form whereas later sonatas are often in three movements. There is much variety within the corpus of the sonatas. Movements have either a bipartite or a tripartite structure and are either monothematic or bithematic. Whereas in the mid-18th century the right hand has most of the thematic material and the left hand is often reduced to a mere accompanying role, including the playing of Alberti basses, Platti's sonatas show more differentiation in this regard. In some movements the left hand only plays chords, but for instance in the allegro which closes the Sonata in g minor, op. 1,4 the role of the left hand is substantial. The titles of the movements indicate only a general tempo, such as allegro or adagio. However, the adagio from the Sonata in F, op. 1,3 is in fact a menuet with trio.

Ravizza played all the sonatas on the harpsichord. That is certainly the most obvious choice, but there are reasons to consider the fortepiano as well. In the liner-notes it is argued that some sonatas profit from the use of such an instrument. It is notable that Platti knew the instrument which Bartolomeo Cristofori developed around 1700. He could have become acquainted with this instrument in Siena. Alberto Iesué, who published a catalogue of Platti's oeuvre, states: "In Siena (...) from 1717 until her death in 1731, Violante Beatrice di Baviera, widow of Grand Prince Ferdinand, was 'Governor of the City and the State' (...). Violante was a cultured, intelligent and well-read woman who also played the harpsichord and the flute; it was thanks to her, who had known Cristofori in Florence and probably possessed one of his instruments, that Platti was able to familiarise himself with the increasingly popular newcomer". A letter by a contemporary of Platti includes a passage which says that he "composed celebrated sonatas for the Cembalo a martelletti with which he became acquainted in Siena (...)". Moreover, Platti's keyboard works never exceed the range of four octaves (C-c'''), which is the range of all of Cristofori's extant instruments. Iesué suggests that Gottfried Silbermann, the first German to build fortepianos, may have become acquainted with Cristofori's instruments through Platti. From that perspective it is most interesting that Elaine Funaro decided to play the sonatas from the Op. 1 on the harpsichord (a modern instrument based on 18th-century models) and the Op. 4 sonatas on a copy of a fortepiano by Cristofori, his last surviving instrument of 1726.

This disc dates from 1999. I wondered why it was included in a list of review discs as I can't find any indication that this is a reissue. Whatever the reason may be, it is good news that this disc is - still or again - available, not only because of the use of a fortepiano, but also because of the engaging performances by Elaine Funaro. I have greatly enjoyed her playing and her fine handling of both instruments. She adds some tasteful ornamentation, especially in the slow movements, which receive an imaginative and expressive performance. This disc was welcomed with enthusiasm by Kirk McElhearn here. It has lost nothing of its appeal since, and if you have missed it, this is the time to make up for it.

Johan van Veen

Previous review: Kirk McElhearn



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