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Ferdinando Gasparo TURRINI (1745-1820)
12 Sonatas for Harpsichord
Michele Barchi (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, Church of S. Lucia Frazione Bertoglia, Viarigi, Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95522 [65:09 + 56:49]

Ferdinando Gasparo Turrini was born in 1745 in Sal˛, on Lake Garda, which, at the time belonged to the Venetian Republic. His main preoccupation was as an organist and teacher, and despite writing in the dedication to the Sonate Spinola that he had lost his sight in the ‘very flower of adulthood’, this severe blow still didn’t stop him from composing. Here he relied on various disciples as his scribes, having to resort to dictating what he had written, with huge effort, to his faithful and willing amanuenses. His output, though, is still largely unknown in most quarters.

Since his death in Brescia in 1820, his music largely disappeared, although in the early 1900s, when Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio was director of ‘I Classici della Musica Italiana’, there was some small revival of interest. The series comprised works by Italian musicians that most people would otherwise not have heard of, and one such volume was entirely devoted to sonatas by Turrini from the Raccolta Spinola. In fact, in one of d’Annunzio’s novels, he makes reference to one particular sonata in D flat major, played on the piano, and suggests a link between this and ‘Beethoven’s early style’.

The present two-CD set consists of two complete collections of sonatas, one dedicated to the Venetian nobleman Vincenzo Fini, of which only hand-written scores exist, and the other dedicated to Genoese patrician Carlo Spinola, of which there also exists a rather rudimentary printed score.

Each set contains six sonatas, and those in the Spinola set are all two-movement works, except for No 6 in D flat, which gains a third. Sonata No 1 opens with a lively Allegro moderato, and does everything you’d expect from a keyboard sonata of the time. The exposition opens in the tonic key, followed by what effectively serves as second subject material in the dominant, in which key the first half ends. This is then repeated in its entirety. The development is somewhat freer and more inventive and the harmonic palette more extended, making some use of the relative minor key. This leads to the recapitulation – a reappearance of the opening, and this time without a change of key when the second subject material returns. It remains in the home key, to close the first movement, before the whole second section is repeated, as was the first. Essentially, then, this embodies Classical First-Movement Sonata-Form, which Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and others would build on and develop in the coming years.

The second movement – being the last – needs to adopt the role of a jolly finale, there being no slow movement or Minuet movement. Marked Andantino brillante, it does this concisely, in essentially ternary form: A (home major key) – B (tonic minor key – A (return of opening material).

There is a slight change in the second sonata, where the final movement is now a slowish theme and variations, marked Variazione (Larghetto). Greater finger dexterity is called for in the really spritely opening Allegro of the third sonata, and it’s always nice to enjoy an instrument with two manuals, as here. Turrini follows this already demanding Allegro with an even faster Presto, which is brim-full of Italian high spirits and playfulness, and which the harpsichord shows off to sheer perfection in Michele Barchi’s expert hands.

No 4 in G minor picks up where the previous sonata finished, with a quite superb toccata- like movement marked Presto, where, despite the digital dexterity already required, Barchi’s technical mastery, and use of the contrasting keyboards are simply second to none. Wisely Turrini relaxes the tempo somewhat, for his closing movement – Allegretto affettuoso – where the composer shows that he can write contrapuntal passages, when he feels the need. The opening of No 5 in E flat, marked Allegro ma non troppo, is business-like and stately, with its frequent dotted rhythms, and seems more to be looking back to the Baroque. The right hand line is significantly more ornamented than in those sonatas heard up to now. The final Allegro, however, is couched more in the language of Haydn, and even alludes to his sense of humour in some of the writing, with its nicely-understated little ending. The last sonata in the Raccolta Spinola set is in three movements. It opens with an Allegro assai that even reminds you of Haydn’s D major Sonata, often nicknamed the ‘Chicken Sonata’ because it is felt to sound like chickens clucking, and running around. The second movement is an attractive little number in the relative minor key, built over a steady walking-bass in triple time. The finale is a breath-taking Prestissimo, which Barchi despatches with the greatest panache, and which really puts the superb-sounding instrument through its paces, rounding off the Spinola Sonatas in the highest of spirits.

According to the informative CD booklet, it is in the Sonate Fini that the listener becomes aware of any possibly tenuous connection between Turrini and Beethoven, that d’Annunzio flagged up. Compared with the Sonate Raccolta, where the composer’s titles and tempo directions for each movement were fairly uninventive, Turrini is far more adventurous in his choice of text in the Fini set.

This opens with the three-movement Sonata in C minor, which begins with a Vivace, consisting of an almost continuous Alberti bass in the left hand, while the right hand is solely involved in delivering the melody above. If this movement vaguely brought to mind a similar passage in the minuet finale of Haydn’s Sonata in E flat, Hob XVI:49, then the ensuing Adagio slow movement could also have come from the pen of the Austrian master, or one of Beethoven’s very early sonatas. Indeed there is certainly some evidence to back up d’Annunzio’s comment about any link between Turrini and Beethoven. While Turrini’s first movement is in C minor, he looks slightly further afield when deciding on a key for his Adagio, which in fact is in the submediant key of A flat major. Furthermore, rather than a full close, the music moves back towards the home key, and arrives at the dominant, just in time for the finale, marked Schiava (Presto assai), which is in the tonic major (C) from start to finish, and where Barchi produces a truly thrilling sound from his two-manual instrument.

Turrini’s choice of title for this finale did, however, give me one or two sleepless nights. The problem was not with the actual tempo indication, but the use of the word ‘Schiava’. In everyday Italian, the word can basically refers to a female slave, or, by analogy, to a variety of grape, and thus wine, so-named because of the specific vine-training method used. As such, neither of these definitions could possibly relate in any way to the music itself, but there is no mention or explanation in the otherwise-helpful booklet to suggest another solution. While it has absolutely no bearing on the music, the fact that I was unable to find out anything else on the Internet, or even by asking one or two eminent musicologists and academics, this made me all the determined to try to discover an explanation. Contacting the harpsichordist direct wasn’t that straightforward either, but eventually a response did come back to say that an explanation might be that ‘Schiava’ might also have referred to a traditional dance from Brescia, where Turrini died, although there exists no precise information to corroborate this. Alternatively, given that Turrini was blind and therefore reliant on amanuenses, mistakes and errors in the score could quite easily occur, and which could largely go unnoticed. If ‘Schiava’ were a dance, there is obviously no English translation, but certainly the music does have an effervescent dance-like feel to it.

The Sonata in A opens with another brilliant movement, with a tempo indication that wouldn’t look out of place on a piece by Beethoven – Allegro assai con molto brio – although the style is again more that of Haydn, even if the excursions into the minor do add a certain profundity to the writing. This is a two-movement sonata, and the second movement’s title is again far more comprehensive than we’ve seen before – a minuet-like Lento ed affetuoso, il Basso sempre legato – followed by a significantly hectic Trio (Presto con disperazione), which really lives up to its ‘desperation’ title – in fact recalling Beethoven’s ‘Rage over a lost penny’, though here in a minor key. However, this fevered activity lasts just a minute or so, before the minuet reappears to round off the sonata in a far calmer frame of mind. The Sonata No 3 in E flat inhabits the galant style of Haydn once more, especially in the use of rapid broken chords in triplets as the main figuration for the left hand accompaniment, and which also brings to mind the same kind of pattern that Beethoven uses in the finale of his first Sonata in F minor, Turrini is fairly conservative with his tempo marking of Allegro ma non tanto, to which he merely adds ‘con illaritÓ’ [sic], ‘with hilarity’ – modern Italian preferring the single letter L. The Adagio Pensieroso in the relative minor stylistically tends to look backwards again, with its quite significant use of ornamentation and various other melodic embellishments, while still managing to make a telling emotional impact, in Barchi’s sensitive reading. The finale – Presto assai risoluto – is full of sunshine and playfulness, after the darker and gloomier Adagio, and really tests the player’s expertise, articulation, and dexterity, all of which is clearly no match for Barchi’s immaculately-honed technique, resulting in yet another enormously electrifying performance.

Sonata No 4 in B minor is the only two-movement work in the Fini set, and opens with a most interesting Presto which is as forward-looking as the Adagio of the previous work was the complete opposite. There is greater harmonic variety, too, with major and minor tonalities interweaving seamlessly, and the composer makes a bigger use of pauses for dramatic effect. The Andante in the relative major is comparatively short, and, largely chordal in design, but provides a business-like and nonetheless effective finale. The opening Allegro cantabile of Sonata No 5 in G again is forward-looking, and incorporates some use of syncopation in the melodic line, as well as including a short cadenza just before the start of the recapitulation. The second movement again has a more interesting title – Adagio ad imitazione del Violuncello [sic]. Here Turrini seeks to convey the texture of cello-writing where, for example, chords need to be arpeggiated, and the melodic line keeps more to the tenor region of the keyboard, as befits the string instrument’s playing-range. While the composer does go below the bottom C of the cello, the movement is intended more as an allusion to, rather than an accurate representation of the instrument. The sonata then concludes with a Tema con variazioni – a set of variations on a simple theme that Haydn might easily have penned. The variations are of the division-type, where the slower note-values of the theme appear, for example, as triplets, and in other note-values, rather than involving any kind of harmonic manipulation or change of tonality, the movement remaining in G major throughout.

The Sonata Fine set closes with the Sonata No 6 in E and begins with another forward-looking Allegretto Spiritoso, which certainly lives up to its ‘spirited’ descriptor. The slow movement – marked Grave – is quite imposing, combining a sense of slow and stately motion with a highly-ornamented, and generally faster-moving melodic line above. Turrini once more adds a short cadenza just before the close. The sonata concludes with one of the shortest finales from either set, but which incorporates some especially-challenging triplet figures, taken at an impressively fast tempo. Despite being labelled, somewhat unpretentiously, Rond˛ [sic] (Allegro non tanto), within less than a minute, the tonic minor key takes over, when the composer really cranks things up with the aforementioned triplets, which Barchi once more despatches with great Úlan, and breath-taking ease. The triplets finally abate, as things return to the slightly less-frenzied major-key feel of the opening. However the composer briefly brings back the triplets in the final build-up, this time at a slightly more relaxed tempo, of course, out of which he fashions another effective conclusion.

For the recordings, Barchi used two modern instruments: a two-manual harpsichord (1985) with two 8-foot stops, and one at 4-foot, together with a single-manual instrument (1995) – the booklet clarifies which instrument is used, and when. The recording has exceptional clarity, and a perfectly-balanced sound stage, where the centrally-placed instruments both display the widest dynamic range.

Initially I wondered whether twelve harpsichord sonatas in one box might be something of an overkill, given that they were written by a completely unknown (to me) composer from the Italian Classical period.

But nothing could have prepared me for the reality when I listened to this two-CD new release for the very first time. Both sets of sonatas are absolutely crammed full of great invention, real variety of design, pace, texture, dynamics and timbre. They are all supremely well-played by Michele Barchi, who has the facility to create some of the most exciting sounds from the instrument I have heard in a very long time.

If you simply enjoy the sound of the harpsichord, then this set is an excellent choice. But if you also take pleasure in discovering a new composer who has got such a lot of interesting things to say, even if his instrument itself fell out of use during his lifetime, then Ferdinando Gasparo Turrini, and his 12 Harpsichord Sonatas deserve some serious consideration, and hopefully will give you just as much pleasure as they did me.
Philip R Buttall

Six Sonatas Raccolta Fini
Sonata No.1 in C minor [10:45]
Sonata No.2 in A [8:52]
Sonata No.3 in A flat [15:21]
Sonata No.4 in B minor [6:41]
Sonata No.5 in G [11:49]
Sonata No.6 in E minor [11:39]

Six Sonatas Raccolta Spinola
Sonata No.1 in G [6:30]
Sonata No.2 in A [10:08]
Sonata No.3 in E [10:48]
Sonata No.4 in G minor [8:31]
Sonata No.5 in E flat [7:42]
Sonata No.6 in D flat [13:10]

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