musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Italian keyboard music of the 17th & 18th centuries

[I] Ignazio CIRRI (1711 - 1787): "12 Sonatas for Organ Op.1"
Massimo Gabba, organ
rec: August 18, 2014, Pozzengo (AL), Chiesa parrochiale di San Bononio
Brilliant Classics - 94951 (© 2015) (69'40")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata in C, op. 1,1; Sonata in F, op. 1,2; Sonata in g minor, op. 1,3; Sonata in G, op. 1,4; Sonata in c minor, op. 1,5; Sonata in A, op. 1,6; Sonata in B flat, op. 1,7; Sonata in D, op. 1,8; Sonata in f minor, op. 1,9; Sonata in A, op. 1,10; Sonata in g minor, op. 1,11; Sonata in D, op. 1,12

[II] "Dialoghi"
Gustav Auzinger, Martina Schobersberger, harpsichord, clavichord, organ
rec: April 17 - 18, 2015, Neufelden (A), Orgelsaal Pürnstein
fra bernardo - fb 1507153 (© 2015) (58'10")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & work-list

anon: Bayle del Gran Duque [1]; Adriano BANCHIERI (1568-1634): Prima Sonata; Ricercata; Terza Sonata in Dialogo; Aurelio BONELLI (1569-c1620): Toccata Athalanta; Toccata Cleopatra; Giovanni GABRIELI (c1555-1612): Canzon XXVIII Sol sol la sol fa mi a 8 (C 191); Severo GIUSSANI (18th C): Sonata concertata; Gaetano PIAZZA (1725-after 1775): Sonata I; Giovanni Marco RUTINI (1723-1797): 6 Divertimenti; Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656): A Fancy; Johann Baptist VANHAL (1739-1813): Duettino X; Duettino XVIII; Duettino XX; Duettino XXIII; Dutettino XXIV; Giovanni Bernardo ZUCCHINETTI (1730-1801): Concerto a due organi

Source: [1] Antonio Martín y Coll, ed., Flores de Musica, 1701

Keyboard music by Italian composers of the 18th century is one of the more or less forgotten chapters of pre-romantic music. The exception is, obviously, Domenico Scarlatti, but as he worked most of his life in Spain one probably can't consider his music 'Italian'. Recently the keyboard works of Baldassare Galuppi and Giovanni Benedetto Platti have received some attention, but they are not part of the standard repertoire. At least they are known as composers in other genres, but Ignazio Cirri is a completely unknown quantity.

In New Grove he is only mentioned in the article devoted to his younger brother Giovanni Battista, a professional cellist. Both were born in Forlì, a town near Ravenna, where Ignazio around 1731 became organist at the Cathedral, and later also maestro di cappella; he held these positions until 1780. He may have been a pupil of Giovanni Battista ('Padre') Martini, but there is no firm evidence of that. However, the correspondence between the two suggests that they knew each other very well. The Cathedral archives include a large number of sacred works from Cirri's pen. Only two collections of keyboard music were published: twelve concertos for organ Op. 1 and six sonatas for keyboard and violin Op. 2, both printed in London.

The first of these collections is recorded here complete by Massimo Gabba. He opted for a performance on the organ, but he emphasizes that these sonatas can also be played on the harpsichord. At that time "there was effectively no clear distinction between music written for the organ and music written for the harpsichord, infact [sic] most of the compositions of that period can be successfully played either on the organ or any other known keyboard instrument". That, of course, goes mainly for Italian music, because organs with a pedalboard were rare. The organ played here has a pedalboard, but with only one stop (basso 8'), and a very limited compass (13 keys). As most Italian organs it has just one manual.

It is notable that this instrument, dating from 1767 and rebuilt in 1804 in the Chiesa parrochiale di San Bononio in Pozzengo, is in meantone temperament. This, and the disposition of the organ, testify to the fact that little changed in Italian organ building during the 17th and 18th centuries. Even some 19th-century organs are hardly fundamentally different from much older instruments. Obviously the temperament has its effects: at various moments it results in spicy harmonies and sometimes in pretty strong dissonants. The fact that an instrument from the second half of the 18th century is in meantone temperament and that its tuning was kept, when it was rebuilt in 1804, indicates that it is justified to play keyboard music from this period in this temperament. That should be kept in mind, if this kind of music is played on, for instance, the harpsichord.

It is not at odds with the character of Cirri's sonatas either. They may bear the traces of the galant idiom, but there is also something 'old-fashioned' about them, especially in the relative importance of counterpoint, certainly in comparison with many keyboard works of the mid-18th century. Moreover, whereas in most keyboard music from this period the left hand is confined to an accompanying role and often plays drum basses or Alberti basses, here it has a more important role to play. The right hand certainly has most of the thematic material, but that is often imitated in the left hand which now and then also has some material of its own. These factors indicate that these sonatas are not just more of the same.

Massimo Gabba deserves praise for recording Cirri's sonatas. He delivers buoyant and energetic performances. The organ greatly contributes to the success of these performances, because of the colourful disposition, which is so typical of Italian pre-romantic organs, as well as the meantone temperament. I have greatly enjoyed this disc and organ lovers should not miss it.

The second disc is different in that it is largely devoted to keyboard music for two to play, either on two keyboard instruments or à quatre mains on one instrument. However, as most of the pieces are from the pen of Italian composers, and the largest part of the music dates from the 18th century, it is appropriate to review this disc here.

Music à quatre mains is much more common than music for two keyboard instruments. The main reason is that the performance of the former is very much a social affair. Music for two keyboards is rather rare, especially as only the upper echelons of society could afford more than one keyboard instrument. It seems likely that most pieces of this kind were written for ecclesiastical use. Various Italian churches owned two organs at opposing lofts; the probably most famous example is the San Petronio basilica in Bologna. The practice of playing two organs is documented for as early as the 16th century. When the French King Henry III visited the San Marco basilica in Venice in 1576 the two organists Claudio Merulo and Andrea Gabrieli played together for him. However, the music of that time, as performed on the fra bernardo disc reviewed here, was not specifically intended for organs, but for all sorts of instruments and could also be performed by an instrumental ensemble.

It is only in the 18th century that such pieces were intentionally written for two organs. They can - as we have seen in the case of Cirri's sonatas - also be played on other kinds of keyboard instruments. The fact that the titles or title pages specifically refer to the organ doesn't mean that much. It is a bit of a shame that the booklet hardly includes any information about the composers and the music. Some of the composers are pretty well known (Tomkins, Gabrieli, Vanhal), but others are more or less unknown quantities.

Aurelio Bonelli was a contemporary of Giovanni Gabrieli and worked as organist in Bologna, albeit not in the San Petronio. Banchieri also worked most of his life in Bologna, where he was living in a monastery. Giovanni Bernardo Zucchinetti has no entry in New Grove. He was chaplain and organist at the cathedral of Varese from 1755 to 1757 and then moved to Monza where he held the same positions in the cathedral. In the 1770s he worked as organist and maestro di cappella at Milan Cathedral. Gaetano Piazza also was active in Milan as organist in several churches. I could not find any information about Severo Giussani, except that he was working in Milan Cathedral. Giovanni Marco Rutini was not a church musician or organist; he rather was active as a composer of operas. His six Divertimenti are played on the organ; they sound well on it, but the fact that Rutini was not connected to the organ and this music is clearly intended for domestic performance probably points in the direction of a strung keyboard instruments, such as the clavichord or even the fortepiano.

Gustav Auzinger and Martina Schobersberger play several keyboard instruments in the organ hall of Pürnstein Castle in Neufelden in Austria. They are either original or copies. They are played in two combinations: two organs or organ and harpsichord. The duettinos for keyboard à quatre mains by Vanhal are played on the clavichord, an instrument exclusively suitable for domestic performance. In addition we hear some pieces for one keyboard and one player.

This is a most interesting disc with repertoire which is pretty rare. The performances are outstanding, and the use of the various instruments greatly contributes to the attraction of this disc. In particular the keyboard music from the decades around 1800 is still very much in the shadow of Mozart and Beethoven. This disc shows that this kind of repertoire deserves to be thoroughly explored. The only minus is the poor documentation.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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