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Scarlatti Sonatas Vol 2

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Giovanni Battista SAMMARTINI (1700/1-1775)
Harpsichord Sonatas
Simonetta Heger (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, Sala Concerti di Ottavanota, Milan, Italy
DYNAMIC CDS7841 [62:36]

If Haydn was the ‘father of symphony’, then Giovanni Battista Sammartini was its grandfather. In the realm of the sonata, the latter was less pioneering, however, at least in terms of form, as this selection attests, drawing on a group of around thirty such works for harpsichord which it is thought he composed from around 1720 to 1760, but never actually published. Structured in single movements – generally in two repeated halves, still like those of Domenico Scarlatti, with only rudimentary development sections, if at all – they do not really advance the Classical sonata form which Haydn and his contemporaries would take much further forwards. However, Sammartini does adopt the increasingly galant style, signifying a development from Baroque contrapuntal techniques, and to that extent his music is a whole world away from the atmosphere of Scarlatti’s examples.

Eighteen of the sonatas are performed here by Simonetta Heger with steady, thoughtful focus, never losing poise or control even as the music occasionally takes off with more excitable figurations such as the continuous triplet pattern of No. 13, and the moto perpetuo beginning of No. 3, which is an exception in that it evokes Scarlattian exuberance. No. 7 opens with a short, discrete prelude like a Baroque toccata in which the player warms up by stretching the with arpeggio figures, though strictly measured and not ad libitum.

Heger plays a harpsichord made by Carlo Mascheroni after a model by Christian Vater of Hanover. It is not a very resonant instrument, but its softer hue suits Sammartini’s graceful compositional voice, less acidulous than that of much Baroque repertoire. Even so, it dampens the music, preventing these interpretations from having a more expressive impact. The repeated notes of the left hand in No. 17 become somewhat unremitting, and Heger could surely vary the articulation of its right-hand part to sustain more interest. Similarly, apparently there are sections in No. 10 marked ‘with the trumpets register’, indicating that the work was probably intended for the organ, but these could ring out more even on a harpsichord than they do here, perhaps by means of the contrast effected by the use of a stop, even if the instrument only possesses one manual, as seems to be the case with Vater’s prototypes. Heger seems to take advantage of some such contrast in No. 9 for some brief antiphonal exchanges but if he is, there is not much audible difference. Also, some passages in No. 17 are marked alternately piano and forte but it is hard to hear any attempt to realise that in this performance.

These sonatas might not strike us today as ground-breaking, but this disc is of interest in highlighting the development of keyboard music and the form of the sonata in the work of a composer based in Milan – at the intersection between Italy and more central, German-speaking Europe in the period between the high Baroque and the early Classicism of Haydn and Mozart.

Curtis Rogers   

No. 8 in A minor [3:06]
No. 4 in C major [3:46]
No. 6 in D minor [3:29]
No. 7 in F major [4:35]
No. 5 in D major [3:01]
No. 17 in G major [3:59]
No. 16 in C major [2:29]
No. 15 in C major [1:40]
No. 14 in C major [3:28]
No. 3 in G major [3:26]
No. 1 in C major [3:59]
No. 2 in F major [3:23]
No. 18 in G major [4:09]
No. 12 in A major [3:49]
No. 13 in B flat major [3:30]
No. 9 in C major [2:09]
No. 10 in G major [2:58]
No. 11 in G major [5:29]

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