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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783): "Harpsichord Sonatas"

Luca Guglielmi, harpsichord

rec: May 9 - 10, 2011, Corio (Piemonte), Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena
Accent - ACC 24255 ( 2013) (70'35")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Prelude in B flat; Sonata in G; Sonata I in A [1]; Sonata II in G [1]; Sonata III in F [1]; Sonata IV in A [1]; Toccata in G 'Del Sassone' (attr) (also attributed to Handel as Capriccio, HWV 571); Toccata and fugue in g minor

Source: [1] IV Sonate per il Cembalo fatte par la Real Delfina di Francia, [ms]

During the second and third quarters of the 18th century Johann Adolf Hasse was one of the most celebrated opera composers in Europe. Together with his wife Faustina Bordoni he performed his operas across the continent. His output in this genre is huge and is not fully explored as yet. He also composed a large amount of oratorios and sacred liturgical music. His vocal output has largely overshadowed his contributions to various genres of instrumental music, among them music for keyboard. Hasse came from a family of keyboard players and the harpsichord played a significant role in his life.

The fact that his keyboard works have remained largely unnoticed is partly due to the fact that he never published any of them. Two collections are known: a series of six sonatas printed in London and six concertos for keyboard solo, but it is unlikely that Hasse himself had anything to do with their publication. His keyboard works are preserved in many archives and libraries across Europe and a number of pieces have been included in anthologies of the 18th century. It shows that they were greatly appreciated.

The present disc includes a survey of this part of Hasse's oeuvre; the programme is ordered chronologically. It starts with the Toccata and fugue in G which dates from his time in Naples. Here he met Alessandro Scarlatti and was for some time his pupil. His teacher's influence becomes quite clear in this piece, especially in the toccata with its brilliant passage work. If you know Alessandro Scarlatti's keyboard music - for instance in recordings by Rinaldo Alessandrini (Arcana, 1992) or Alexander Weimann - you will recognize the stylistic similarities. The next piece, another Toccata in G, is interesting in that it is also contributed to Handel. The manuscript simply says Del Sassone, "by the Saxon". Il Sassone was the name given in Italy to Handel and later to Hasse. On stylistic grounds it is assumed this piece is from Handel's pen; it is included as Capriccio under HWV 571 in the Handel catalogue.

Next follow four sonatas which Hasse composed for "the Royal Dauphine of France". He knew her well: she was Maria Josepha, the daughter of August III, King of Poland and Saxon Elector, who for many years was Hasse's employer. She married the French heir to the throne, the later King Louis XVI. The taste at the court in Dresden was Italian, and therefore it comes as little surprise that these four sonatas are Italian in style. They reflect the galant idiom which was dominant in the mid-18th century. As Hasse visited Paris in 1750 these sonatas must have been written shortly before. Luca Guglielmi has chosen a French harpsichord for these sonatas, and that results in an interesting confrontation of instrument and idiom. Hasse may not be a household name in the keyboard repertoire of the 18th century, and galant music may have the reputation of being rather lightweight, but these sonatas are substantial. They have much to offer and are well suited to repeated listening. That is also down to Guglielmi's brilliant playing which holds the listener's attention.

The disc ends with a sonata of a later date. The liner-notes don't tell when it was written - it is probably not known anyway - but its central movement, called cantabile, is characterised as "ultimately approaching an almost Mozartian sensitivity". It reminds me of some later keyboard works by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and the texture seems to suggest dynamic indications which Guglielmo realises by alternating between the two manuals. I could imagine this sonata being played at an early fortepiano as well, for instance an instrument by Silbermann. That would definitely be an interesting option. The closing allegro has clear orchestral traces; it could have been the transcription of a movement from a solo concerto or symphony. It is played with panache by Guglielmi.

He makes a great impression throughout. He shows much sensitivity to the stylistic features of the repertoire and to the development charted from first work to last. That is also reflected in his choice of instruments. I have already mentioned the French harpsichord he plays in the four sonatas composed for Maria Josepha: it is the copy of an instrument by Goujon from 1749, extended in 1784. It is also used in the Prelude in B flat. The two toccatas are played on a copy of an Italian harpsichord from 1726, and the late Sonata in G on the copy of a German instrument by Christian Vater from 1738.

This is a highly interesting disc which sheds light on a lesser-known part of Hasse's oeuvre. Moreover, it is brilliantly played on stylistically appropriate instruments. If you like harpsichord music, this is an essential addition to your collection.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

Relevant links:

Luca Guglielmi

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