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Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (c1697 - 1763): "Concerti per il Cembalo obligato"

Luca Guglielmi, fortepianoa; Paolo Grazzi, oboeb
Concerto Madrigalescoc
Dir: Luca Guglielmi

rec: July 19 - 20, 2013, Urbino, Oratorio di San Giuseppe*; Sept 18, 2013, Montaldo Torinese (To), Chiesa parocchiale**
Arcana - A 375 (© 2014) (71'47")
Liner-notes: E/F/I
Cover & track-list
Scores Sonatas

Concerto a cembalo obligato in c minor (I 49)ac*; Concerto a cembalo obligato in G (I 55)ac*; Concerto per il cembalo obligato in A (I 57)ac*; Sonata per cembalo solo in c minor, op. 4,2 (I 109)a**; Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor (I 100)bc**

This disc is not only about an Italian composer with the name of Platti, it is also about the early stages of an instrument which was to play a key role in musical life from the late 18th century until our own time. Luca Guglielmi plays a copy of a gravicembalo col piano e forte or cimbalo di martelletti as the instrument was called which was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori. His name appears in every account of the history of the piano, but the reception of his invention in Italy is far less known. The building of and composing for the fortepiano in the 18th century seemed centred on Germany and Austria. However, several Italian composers from the late baroque era became acquainted with Cristofori's instruments and could have written for it. Some years ago Gossa released an interesting disc with music in which the Cristofori fortepiano could have been used ("Piano e Forte - Music at the Medici Court on Cristofori's early pianoforte (c. 1730)"). In most cases it is impossible to prove that composers had such an instrument in mind, but the historical circumstances make it at least plausible that a fortepiano may have been used in performances of their compositions.

That may also have been the case with Platti's works. He was born in Padua or its neighbourhood; the year of his birth is not fully established, but there are strong indications that it was 1697. The disc I just referred to concentrated on the role of the fortepiano at the court in Florence. Platti could have become acquainted with this instrument in Siena. Alberto Iesué, who published a catalogue of Platti's oeuvre (the I in the tracklist refers to this catalogue) states: "In Siena (...) from 1717 until her death in 1731, Violante Beatrice di Baviera, widow of Grand Prince Ferdinand, was 'Governor of the City and the State' (...). Violante was a cultured, intelligent and well-read woman who also played the harpsichord and the flute; it was thanks to her, who had known Cristofori in Florence and probably possessed one of his instruments, that Platti was able to familiarise himself with the increasingly popular newcomer".

From 1722 until his death Platti worked in Germany, mostly at the court of the the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg, first Lothar Franz (who died in 1724) and then, from 1729 onwards, Johann Philipp Franz. Between 1724 and 1729 he mainly worked for Lothar Franz's brother Rudolf Franz Erwein in Wiesentheid. The latter was an avid player of the cello and collected large amounts of music for his instrument. Platti also composed a number of pieces for the cello. He was proficient in several instruments, including the keyboard. In regard to the music recorded here it is quite possible that he composed it for the fortepiano. A letter by a contemporary includes a passage which says that Platti "composed celebrated sonatas for the Cembalo a martelletti with which he became acquainted in Siena (...)". Moreover, Platti's keyboard works never exceed the range of four octaves (C-c''') which is the range of all of Cristofori's extant instruments. Iesué suggests that Gottfried Silbermann, the first German to build fortepianos, may have become acquainted with Cristofori's instruments through Platti.

The titles of the keyboard works on this disc all refer to the harpsichord as the solo instrument. This is not in conflict with the suggestion that they may have been conceived for the fortepiano. At Platti's time the fortepiano had not yet established itself as an alternative to the harpsichord. Keyboard sonatas were mostly written for amateurs, and very few of them owned a fortepiano. The concertos have been preserved in manuscript, but were probably also conceived for performance by non-professional players. The keyboard parts seem to be playable at the harpsichord as well. Obviously I don't know whether the scores include any indications in regard to dynamics, and the liner-notes don't mention this issue.

Guglielmi makes use of crescendi, for instance in the opening movement of the Sonata in c minor, op. 4,2. It sounds very natural; here and elsewhere I never had the feeling that he imposes something inappropriate upon the music. The performance on a fortepiano – a copy after Cristofori – makes it understandable that Platti has been labelled as one of the trailblazers of the classical style. Some Italian musicologists have suggested this but their views have sometimes been received with scepticism. That is understandable if one only knows his chamber music. The Sonata in c minor for oboe and bc is a typical baroque sonata, modelled after the Corellian sonata da chiesa. It seems that the concertos have come to light only fairly recently and they give credibility to the claim that Platti played a role in the transition from the baroque to the classical style. The Concerto in c minor is again written in baroque style, following the model of the Vivaldian solo concerto in which the tutti play the ritornelli. The two other concertos are different in that the role of the strings is extended. There is much more of a real dialogue between the keyboard and the strings. That goes especially for the last concerto of the programme. The difference between the adagio from the Concerto in c minor and the largo from the Concerto in A is striking. In the former the strings open and end the movement with a ritornello, and halfway through make a short appearance, dividing it into two sections. In the latter they regularly intervene in the proceedings and are more integrated in the texture. The use of a fortepiano helps to reveal the 'modern' character of these works.

I am totally convinced by the use of a fortepiano in these works, not as the only option, but as a very plausible possibility. I am less convinced about its use for the basso continuo in the oboe sonata. The balance is not good here; the fortepiano is far too soft and too much in the background. One might suspect this to be a matter of recording technique, but that seems unlikely as the balance in the other pieces is perfect. It would probably work better with a flute, but the oboe is a pretty loud instrument and the fortepiano can't compete with it. It is probably no coincidence that the harpsichord was used until the end of the century in large-scale vocal works, for instance oratorios, as it was essential that it could be clearly heard by the singers.

This is a most fascinating disc. In recent years I have heard quite a number of discs with music by Platti, and I have always greatly enjoyed his works. This disc proves again that he was an excellent composer, and that the increased interest in his oeuvre in recent years is well deserved. Luca Gugleilmi and his colleagues deliver engaging performances. Guglielmi handles the fortepiano very well and fully explores its capabilities in the interest of the music. Right now nine concertos for this scoring from Platti's pen are available. I very much hope that more of these will be recorded.

This disc is historically interesting and musically rewarding. Those who have a special interest in the history of the piano should certainly investigate it.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Luca Guglielmi

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