musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Baldassare GALUPPI (1706 - 1785): "Sonatas for Keyboard Instruments"

Luca Guglielmi, harpsichorda, clavichordb, organc, fortepianod

rec: Sept 12, 2009, Coro (Turin), Chiesa di San Genesio Martirec; Sept 14-15, 2009, Vicchio (Florence), Atelier Chinnery-Schwarzabd
Accent - ACC 24227 (© 2010) (76'43")

Sonata in Cd [6]; Sonata in c minorb [8]; Sonata in Da [3]; Sonata in e minor, op. 2,3a [2]; Sonata in Gc [5]; Sonata in a minorb [7]; Sonata in a minor, op. 1,3c [1]; Sonata in A flat, op. 1,6c [1]; Sonata in B flata [4];

(Sources: [1] Sonate per cembalo, op. 1, 1756; [2] Sonate per cembalo, op. 2, 1759; [3] ms library of Conservatoire royale, Brussels; [4] ms Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice; [5] ms library Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello, Venice; [6] ms archive Teatro La Fenice, Venice; [7] ms Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich; [8] ms library Conservatorio Nicoḷ Paganini, Genua)

After the death of Antonio Vivaldi Baldassare Galuppi was Venice's most fashionable composer. An illustration of his reputation is the fact that when in the 1750's or 1760's the court in Dresden was looking for new religious music from Italy, it was sent some pieces with the name of Galuppi as the composer, although in fact they were composed by Vivaldi.

Galuppi was born in Venice and probably received his first music lessons from his father, a barber who also played the violin in small orchestras. His first professional teacher was Antonio Lotti, first organist of San Marco. Soon he started to play the harpsichord in opera houses and composed substitute arias for operas. In the following decades he wrote a large number of operatic works. In the early 1740's he travelled to London where a number of his operas were performed. They didn't go down well with everyone; it seems Handel heard one of his operas and didn't like it. But his music was quite popular with the public at large, and this may well explain that two collections of keyboard music were printed in London in the 1750's.

It was mainly after his return to Italy that his star as an opera composer began to rise, reflected by the number of commissions he received. At the end of his career he concentrated on composing religious music. He also wrote many sonatas for keyboard, the total number of which is estimated at about 130. The two collections of sonatas published in London in 1756 and 1759 respectively were his first - and only - sonatas ever printed. But it seems likely that some of his keyboard music was written in the 1740's. The sonatas on this disc are in one to three movements. They reflect the fashion of the time in that they are mostly written in two parts, with the right hand taking the melody and the left hand reduced to the role of accompaniment. In some sonatas we find drum basses - a common phenomenon in keyboard music from around 1750 -, like in the second movement of the Sonata in A flat, op. 1,6. That doesn't imply that all sonatas are just galant and easy-listening stuff.

The programme opens with the Sonata in D, which is preserved in manuscript in the library of the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. It is in three movements - largo, allegro, andantino - and is quite substantial, also in regard to harmony. The Sonata in e minor, op. 2,3 is in just one movement, but - like all sonatas by Galuppi - in binary form. The second section contains a long cadenza-like passage of a quite dramatic character.

Interesting is also the Sonata in G which is preserved in the library of the Benedetto Marcello conservatory in Venice. It is also in one movement, a larghetto with written-out varied reprises for both sections. In his liner notes Michael Talbot refers to the sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in which this kind of reprises often appear. "Galuppi visited Bach in Berlin on his way to St Petersburg, and it is tempting to imagine that it was from Bach that he got the idea".

The disc ends with another substantial work, the Sonata in C, which has been found in a Venetian archive. It is in three movements again - andante, allegro, allegro assai - and its first movement lasts more than 8 minutes. Michael Talbot considers this sonata reminiscent of Mozart, "the master with whom Galuppi seems to have most in common spiritually".

Earlier he had already stated that in his keyboard music Galuppi looks back and looks forward. That isn't surprising, considering the fact that Galuppi died when Mozart had already developed into one of Europe's most famous composers. His long life and career also justifies the use of various keyboard instruments, from the harpsichord to the fortepiano.

Luca Guglielmo uses two different harpsichords. The Sonata in D is played at a copy of a harpsichord by Michael Mietke of 1710, with two manuals and three stops (2 x 8', 4'). This may surprise but it is quite possible that he knew (and played?) such instruments while visiting Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and probably also in St Petersburg. The Sonata in B flat and the Sonata in e minor, op. 2,3 are played at the copy of a harpsichord by Bartolomeo Cristofori which dates from 1698. Cristofori has become known as the builder of the first fortepianos in history, and the copy of such an instrument which was made in 1726 is used in the Sonata in C which closes this disc.

As Michael Talbot states Galuppi's sonatas don't show any signs of being written for a specific keyboard instrument, and therefore it is just the interpreter's taste and what sounds best which is decisive. The use of the clavichord is probably most surprising as this instrument is not associated with Italy. But Talbot refers to an Italian dictionary of 1769 in which the instrument is described, delivering clear evidence that the instrument wasn't unknown in Italy. It is used to good effect in two sonatas on this disc.

Lastly, the organ. The instrument played here dates from 1752, but no further information is given. The sonatas which are played on this instrument are well chosen. Again, the choice of instrument is totally convincing. One should remember that this kind of repertoire was increasingly finding its way into the liturgy - a development which would continue well into the 19th century.

Luca Guglielmo is delivering outstanding performances here. By choosing sonatas of different kinds and using various instruments he has given a very interesting and enjoyable survey of Galuppi's keyboard oeuvre. If I am not mistaken he isn't taken that seriously as a composer: the number of recordings of his works is limited, in particular considering the size of his oeuvre, but Guglielmi shows that his music has more substance than he may be given credit for. This disc shows that at least his keyboard music is well worth exploring.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Luca Guglielmi

CD Reviews