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Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697-1763)
Harpsichord Concerto in G (I 54) [13:04]
Harpsichord Concerto in C (I 48) [14:37]
Violin Concerto in A (I 18) [10:05]
Harpsichord Concerto in F (I 52) [12:30]
Harpsichord Concerto in A (I 57) [14:00]
Roberto Loreggian (harpsichord)
L’Arte dell’Arco/Federico Guglielmo (violin)
rec. March 2017 Abbazia di S. Maria delle Carceri, Italy
CPO 555 219-2 [64:25]

With ever more depressing news coming our way each day, and the constant feeling of two steps forward, three steps back in dealing with the global pandemic, we could probably all benefit from some warm sunshine, to take our minds off things, and also to boost our much-depleted levels of vitamin D, since we haven’t been able to get sufficient natural exposure. Given that foreign breaks in warmer climes aren’t currently on the agenda, supplements might be the only way forward.

Alternatively, you could always get hold of this new release on the CPO label, which simply exudes non-stop sunshine in an easily-accessible form, and without any reported side-effects. The disc in question features concertos by Giovanni Benedetto Platti, with an alluring Canaletto view of Venetian life on the front – and all five concertos, four for harpsichord, and one for violin, are cast in bright and genial major keys, and certainly radiate a significant amount of the necessary Vitamin, albeit in musical garb.

So who exactly was Platti? Well, according to the excellent and erudite CD notes, he was born in Padova (Padua), and died in Würzburg. He in fact trained in Venice, which has suggested to some, that he was a native of that city, while other authorities say he was from Bergamo. Either way, between the ages of 20 and 22, he went to Germany, which was always a popular destination for young Italian musicians looking for a job at the time. He worked with the bishop’s court in Würzburg, where he stayed until 1763 – apart from a brief period after 1725, when all the court musicians were dismissed in an economy drive. He also taught singing, and was a virtuoso oboist, violinist, and harpsichordist. He was also fluent on the cello and at least a competent-enough singer to be able to deputize as a tenor, when needed.

In order to shed a little more light on what to expect when hearing Platti’s music for the first time, it’s worth noting that, when he was born, JS Bach was already some twelve years old, while when Platti died, Mozart was only two weeks shy of his seventh birthday.

Consequently Platti began composing in a Baroque style, later making a transition to the newer ‘galant’ style of the early Classical period. As time went on, his music became more German and less Italian, and has a strong sense of rhythmic life, makes good use of counterpoint, especially in the more Baroque early pieces), and garnered a full command of chords. This subsequently led to considerable variety in his harmonic palette, together with interesting syncopations, and often florid melodies, even if, just occasionally, he might rely on the odd well-thumbed and overworked chord sequence. Since the beginning of the new millennium, Platti has appeared to enjoy something of a well-deserved mini-renaissance.

He wrote some nine harpsichord concertos in all, four of which have been selected here to accompany the composer’s single violin concerto. If you’re anything like me, as soon as you look at the works recorded, you’ll be wracking your brains for the name of Platti’s cataloguer, the singular Signor, or perhaps Herr ‘I’. Well, for my own OCD satisfaction, and perhaps as a potential answer in some high-octane musical pub-quiz, I can reveal it stands for modern Italian musicologist, Alberto Iesuè. The CD booklet, which is actually described as a ‘musicological note’, takes a far more detailed look at the place of the emerging concerto-form in Platti’s works, but also provides a simpler ‘road-map’ approach, too.

The opening work is the Concerto in G, which Iesuè regards as the first of the extant concertos in order of composition. It certainly has a real ‘call-to-arms’ start, bright and sunny, without a cloud in the sky, all particularly light and uplifting, with the period instruments of L’Arte Dell’Arco sounding on top form and totally appropriate. You will, of course, hear the harpsichord in the background from the very start, as it helps to fill out the chords as part of its role as the continuo. But just before the first minute has elapsed, the harpsichord, now in its soloist role, starts again to work out, embellish, and develop what the orchestra had played from the start – the so-called opening ritornello. However, within a few seconds, the harpsichord has seamlessly slipped into triplets, the music clearly become more chromatic, and makes use of a downward sequence, the like of which you would not expect to have encountered in the works of JS Bach, although nothing new to his sons.

As expected, another short ritornello takes us to another related key, and off the soloist goes again. This episode does involve minor keys, and is somewhat more dramatic, and it’s not long before there is a return to the sunny opening – after all, it can rain on occasions, even during an Italian summer. A final ritornello then rounds things off, reverting to the high spirits of the opening. If this is essentially what you are going to hear in each concerto on the CD in terms of the first movement, then the slow second movement that follows will also adhere to its own basic pattern. In the present example, the opening ritornello presents the new key, one that is closely related to the main concerto key, E minor (relative minor), to set the scene for the soloist’s entry. This time, of course, the playing is very much more expressive, has some lovely passages a third apart, and some effective, yet albeit brief moments of interplay between harpsichord and lead violin. The orchestra re-enters, to conclude this charmingly poignant little movement. With scarcely a pause for breath, the finale bursts into life, and while it is marked Allegro assai, as the first movement was, it is decidedly brisker in overall feel. But as with that first movement, structurally it still adheres to the basic principle of contrast between soloist and orchestra. There is no cadenza as yet, but Platti does build in freer moments for the soloist, where the tempo relaxes, providing both player and listener with the opportunity to catch their breath. Platti also makes good use of chromatic ‘side-steps’ at some cadence- points, which contribute to the success of this finale.

The next concerto is in C major, and, for the first two movements at least, essentially it’s more of the same, though this is by no means intended to suggest any lack of inspiration on Platti’s part – far from it, as there are some equally attractive moments here, too. On this occasion the slow movement is in the dominant key, and make significant use of pulsing chords in triple time. Even here, it’s easy to sense the composer flexing his harmonic muscles somewhat more, as well as making a greater use of chromaticism. For the finale Platti goes for an elegant Tempo di menuet, but one that, while not in the realms of a far faster Beethoven scherzo, still moves along really briskly. It very much suggests the kind of finale Haydn used in his E flat Piano Sonata, Hob. XVI/49, with its frequent triplets in both hands.

Harpsichordist Roberto Loreggian now takes the back seat while lead violinist and director, Federico Guglielmo plays Platti’s Violin Concerto in A (I 18), his only surviving work for the genre. This again follows the same pattern as before, while early on, the tessitura of the solo part becomes quite extended at the top of the register. The ability of the violin to play soft and loud by degrees, unlike the harpsichord, does allow for an extra dynamic dimension, historically it looks back to the concerto grosso, rather than forward to the classical solo concerto. The slow movement is again marked Adagio, and, in Platti’s sensitive hands, truly emphasizes the violin’s eminently greater capability for sustained cantabile playing, and long, continuous lines, compared with the harpsichord. The CD booklet comments, too, on the fact that here the soloist is somewhat freed from the high-altitude playing seen elsewhere, while also including a lovely word to describe the filigree patterns of the first and second violins as they weave their accompaniment around the soloist in some episodes, namely the Italian word merletto – referring to ‘lace’. It’s also worth commenting that Platti sets this slow movement in the key of C major, the so-called mediant relationship favoured by Beethoven some years later. A bright and breezy Presto in a fast 3/8 metre provides the perfect end to a most enjoyable, and little-known violin concerto.

It’s back to the harpsichord for the final two works on this new release – the Harpsichord Concertos in F (I 52) and A (I 57) respectively. The F major Concerto opens with another of those bright and cheery Allegros, but the solo part includes more trills and embellishments than before, while also making a greater use of an Alberti bass, something that became par for the course in the early Classical period and beyond. Furthermore there is a more extensive reliance on the whole keyboard compass and a greater use of modulations in the solo part. The ensuing poignant slow movement, in the relative minor key, this time well-and-truly places the soloist in the limelight, with the string contribution being more by way of linking the extended solo passages, rather than providing an substantial accompaniment. The closing Finale is yet another of those sunny movements in triple time, although a fair amount of its almost five minutes seems to favour minor keys – perhaps another mixed Italian summer’s day, where the sun appears between the showers. The ending, when it finally comes, is quite abrupt, and somewhat unexpected, given what we’ve been treated to so far.

The A major Concerto begins with a more stately opening ritornello, with a decidedly Handelian feel to it, while the slightly slower tempo allows for greater virtuosity from the soloist. For the slow movement, Platti keeps to the major mode, setting it in the dominant key of E major, which tends to limit its emotional depth, compared with its predecessor. The composer does, however, include a couple of short unaccompanied cadenzas along the way, and appears to enjoy embellishing and extending otherwise ordinary cadence points. The finale returns once more to the world of Handel and his contemporaries, with a suitably brisk perpetuum mobile-like movement, which offers many opportunities for solo display, and provides a thoroughly apt way to conclude this extremely captivating CD.

In terms of the performances from L’Arte dell’Arco, harpsichordist Roberto Loreggian, and lead violin / soloist Federico Guglielmo, I could ask for no more. The recording and balance are equally second to none, all combining to render this most desirable new CD a perfect vehicle either just for pure enjoyment, or as a means to gain a greater insight into the way the solo-concerto genre transitioned from the Baroque to the early Classical period.

Yes, Platti may not be a composer of ground-breaking proportions, but the quality of the playing lavished here on his concertos shows that everyone involved in any way with the production of this new release, clearly holds the composer in the highest esteem.

Philip R Buttall
 




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