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Pietro Domenico PARADIES (PARADISI) (1706/07 - 1791): Keyboard sonatas

Anna Paradiso, harpsichorda, clavichordb, fortepianoc

rec: Nov 2018, Danderyd (SE), Petruskyrkan
BIS - 2415 ( 2020) (87'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
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Sonata I in Ga; Sonata II in B flatb; Sonata III in Ea; Sonata IV in g minorb; Sonata V in Fb; Sonata VI in Ac; Sonata VII in B flata; Sonata VIII in e minora; Sonata IX in a minorc; Sonata X in Da

To some music lovers Pietro Domenico Paradisi may be an unknown quantity. However, a look at a site like Presto Classical reveals that he is pretty well represented on disc, in particular with his twelve keyboard sonatas, published in 1754. They are by far the best-known part of his output, which is very small anyway. It also includes some keyboard pieces which have been preserved in manuscript, two keyboard concertos and some symphonies, as far as instrumental music is concerned. New Grove lists also some works for the stage and makes mention of cantatas and arias, without any further specification. The keyboard sonatas have been recorded by, among others, Ottavio Dantone (Stradivarius), Elaine Funaro (Centaur), Enrico Baiano (Symphonia, reissued on Glossa) and Filippo Ravizza (Concerto). As far as I know, they all performed them on harpsichord, whereas Anna Paradiso also uses a clavichord and a fortepiano. More about that later.

Let's first have a look at his career. Paradisi was from Naples, as he added to his name on the title page of his sonatas. Little is known about his formative years. It is assumed that he was a pupil of Nicola Porpora, but there is no documentary evidence of this. Like most of his Neapolitan colleagues, he started writing music for the stage, but that wasn't received well. Around 1740 he moved to Venice, and there his forays into the field of music theatre also found little appreciation. His stay in Venice had a lasting influence on his development as a composer of keyboard music, though, as he must have become acquainted with the keyboard works of the then dominant Venetian composer, Baldassare Galuppi.

In 1746 he settled in London, and there he made another attempt to make a name for himself in the field of opera. However, once again he failed to convince the music world of his capabilities in this department. Charles Burney described his arias as "ill-phrased" and noticed a lack of grace. He was full of praise, though, for Paradisi as a keyboard teacher and composer. Among his pupils was Thomas Linley the elder. The sonatas which are the subject of this disc, were published in London. They were dedicated to Augusta, Princess of Wales, and mother of the later King George III. These sonatas must have been very popular as they were reprinted five times between 1765 and 1790.

They are written in the galant idiom of the mid-18th century, and that is expressed by their structure in two movements. Almost all of them have a fast tempo indication, like allegro, presto and vivace. Some refer to a moderate tempo, like andante and moderato. There is just one really slow movement: the second of the Sonata III in E, 'larghetto e cantabile'. The tempo indications only refer to a basic tempo or character as many movements contain episodes which require a somewhat slower speed. This is an indication that many movements encompass considerable contrasts. The opening presto from the Sonata V in F is just one example, with its often abrupt changes of mood. There seem to be clear influences of the Sturm und Drang here, a style which was common at the continent. The presto from the Sonata VII in B flat includes quite some chromaticism.

On the title page of the 1754 print, these pieces are called Sonate di Gravicembalo, which indicates the harpsichord. However, one should not take this too literally. It does not exclude other keyboard instruments, and here one can think of the clavichord, which was quite popular among amateurs across the continent. England seems to have been the exception, if we have to believe the authors of the article on this instrument in New Grove. That is not decisive, though: printed editions of keyboard music may have been published in London or Amsterdam, but they were intended for the international market. Anna Paradiso, in her liner-notes, mentions the popularity of the clavichord in Sweden, where she lives. She refers to the Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman, who admired Paradisi and performed his music at public concerts.

In two sonatas Ms Paradiso plays a fortepiano, and that seems a bit of a different story. She states that at the time of publication, the fortepiano had already become popular in England. She does not give any evidence of that, and according to New Grove, the fortepiano did not occupy a prominent position in England before 1765. Italy seems a different story: during the first half of the 18th century, some composers already turned their attention to the new instrument, which after all was an Italian invention. However, how widespread its use was, is difficult to decide. From that perspective, the choice of the fortepiano is less obvious. And that goes in particular for the instrument Ms Paradiso selected: a Broadwood piano of 1802. Such an instrument is not comparable to the first generations of fortepianos. I probably would have preferred a square piano, the kind of instrument that was played in private surroundings. A Broadwood is a more viable option if one takes into account that Paradisi's sonatas were reprinted as late as 1790. Maybe we have to look at the performances on the fortepiano as an example of how Paradisi's music may have sounded in the last decade of the century.

Setting aside these historical considerations, there is every reason to welcome these performances by Anna Paradiso, whose previous recordings (for instance of sonatas by the above-mentioned Roman) I greatly appreciated. Here again, I notice her creative approach to the material: she takes some liberties, but - as far as I can see - all within the boundaries of what is historically tenable, for instance with regard to ornamentation and agogics. The latter aspect is a particular pleasing and important one, as by treating the tempi with some freedom, she creates a nice amount of tension. These performances are strongly rhetorical, and remind us once again how important the classical rhetoric was in performance practice in the 18th century. With the use of the clavichord and the fortepiano, this disc is also a real alternative to the recordings that are already on the market.

If you don't know Paradisi's sonatas yet, this disc offers an excellent opportunity to get to know them. They were popular for a reason, and Anna Paradiso is the perfect guide.

Johan van Veen ( 2020)

Relevant links:

Anna Paradiso


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