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Domenico ALBERTI (1710 - 1740): "Complete Keyboard Music"

Manuel Tomadin, harpsichorda, fortepianob, organc

rec: Oct 3 - 4 & 6, 2013, Triestea; Nov 5, 2013, Marano Lagunare (UD), Chiesa parrocchiale di S. Martinob; Jan 24, 2014, Travisob
Brilliant Classics - 95161 (4 CDs) (© 2015) (4.38'00")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list
Scores Sonatas op. 1

[Eight Sonatas Op. 1]a Sonata in G, op. 1,1; Sonata in F, op. 1,2; Sonata in C, op. 1,3; Sonata in g minor, op. 1,4; Sonata in A, op. 1,5; Sonata in G, op. 1,6; Sonata in F, op. 1,7; Sonata in G, op. 1,8
Sonata I in Fa; Sonata II in Fa; Sonata IVc; Sonata in Cb; Sonata in Cc; Sonata in D/d minorb; Sonata in D/d minorc; Sonata in E/Ab; Sonata in E flatb; Sonata in F (WörA19)a; Sonata in Gb; Sonata in G (WörA16)a; Sonata in G (WörA15)a; Sonata in g minorc; Sonata in Aa; Sonata in a minorc; Sonata in B flata; Sonata in B flatb; Sonata in B flat (WörA10)a; Sonata pastorale in Gc; Sonata pastorale in B flatc; Toccata in C (WörA11)a; Toccata in Da; Toccata in Fb; Toccata in F (WörA9)a; Toccata in B flat (WörA12)c; Toccata in B flatc

Most music lovers will be familiar with the name Alberti. As a composer Domenico Alberti is largely an unknown quantity but the musical figure which is derived from his name, the Alberti bass, is a common phenomenon in music from the mid-18th century. New Grove defines it as a "left-hand accompaniment figure in keyboard music consisting of broken triads whose notes are played in the order: lowest, highest, middle, highest". It is given the name of the composer because he is considered the first to have used it. However, Filippo Emanuele Ravizzi, in the liner-notes to his recording of Alberti's Sonatas op. 1 expresses his doubts about this claim, stating that this figure was used well before Alberti since the beginning of the 18th century.

Domenico Alberti was from Venice and was educated as a keyboard player and a singer. Sometimes he combined these two capacities by accompanying himself. Although he received lessons from renowned masters such as Antonio Biffi and Antonio Lotti he was considered a dilettante, an amateur. As a singer he was highly admired, for instance by the castrato Farinelli who, having heard him, said: "It's lucky he is just an amateur, otherwise I would have a most fearsome rival to contend with". He also composed vocal music: two serenatas have survived as well as a large number of separate arias.

Alberti has become best known as a composer of keyboard music. The present set of discs claims to include Alberti's complete keyboard music but that is hard to substantiate. First of all, his keyboard works have not been catalogued. In New Grove Michael Talbot states that "Alberti's sonatas survive in manuscripts as complete works and isolated movements and it is not yet possible to state accurately how many survive, although the number probably exceeds 40." In the present recording some 'isolated movements' have been put together to a sonata in two movements. Unfortunately these cases are not specified and that makes it impossible to check whether all these separate movements are included. I assume that the Sonata in E/A (CD 2, tracks 11/12) is one of those 'composite' sonatas. Secondly, in his liner-notes Manuel Tomadin refers to two sonatas in the Bompiani Library in Rome "to which it was not possible to gain access".

Only eight sonatas were printed during his lifetime: the VIII Sonate per cembalo op. 1 which came from the press in 1748 in London. This was provoked by an earlier edition under the name of Giuseppe Jozzi, a harpsichordist and castrato soprano who claimed to be Alberti's pupil. When the fraud was discovered the sonatas were reprinted under Alberti's name. These sonatas are all in two movements, mostly one in a fast and the other in a moderate tempo. This kind of sonatas were written for musical entertainment and didn't include any profound thoughts. The same can be said about the unpublished sonatas.

However, some pieces derive from the standard. Two sonatas have come down to us with the title of sonata pastorale. They have the traditional features of pastoral music of the 18th century, and these come especially to the fore in a performance on the organ. The andante which opens the Sonata pastorale in B flat has a drone in the left hand. Some sonatas come in three movements. The Sonata IV (no key given; CD 1, tracks 07-09) opens with an allegro which is followed by an andante and closes with four variations. The second three-movement sonata is the Sonata I in F (CD 3, tracks 13-15) which has the form which was more common at the time: allegro - andante - allegro. Some pieces are called toccata but they have nothing in common with the toccatas by composers of previous generations. The improvisatory traces which are a feature of such works, for instance by Frescobaldi or later by Alessandro Scarlatti, are absent here. These pieces are sonatas or sonata movements but in name.

Counterpoint is virtually absent from Alberti’s sonatas; the exception is the Sonata in a minor (CD 1, tracks 16-17) which opens with a movement called ripieno. Here the parts are equally important and during the musical discourse there is quite some harmonic tension including a couple of strong dissonants. This is certainly also due to the unequal temperament of the organ. Otherwise the role of the left hand is reduced to an accompaniment, often in the form of frequently repeated patterns. One of them, obviously, is the Alberti bass. Because of the dominance of the right hand the left hand part is not that easy to follow. The most clear demonstration of the Alberti bass is in the adagio from the Sonata in B flat (WörA10) (CD 3, track 16).

In his liner-notes Manuel Tomadin explains his choice of instruments. He mentions that some manuscripts read 'for harpsichord or fortepiano'. That is the reason that the sonatas on disc 2 are played on the fortepiano. We know that some Italian composers, for instance Benedetto Marcello, were interested in the early forms of this instrument as it had been developed by Bartolomeo Cristofori. This recording could have been an interesting demonstration of its role in Italian music before the 'post baroque' period. Unfortunately Tomadin decided to play the copy of a Walter fortepiano from 1792. That is a completely inappropriate instrument whose sound is very different from that of a Cristofori which is much closer to the harpsichord. I find this choice incomprehensible and for me that is a major flaw of this production.

That is especially regrettable as Tomadin delivers very fine performances, and that includes his playing of the fortepiano. If only he had chosen a different instrument. Copies of Cristofori fortepianos are available, so that's no excuse. This reduces the artistic value of this set. Even so, anyone who likes 18th-century keyboard music should investigate this release. This music is typical of many keyboard works written in the mid-18th century, for instance by Galuppi but also by someone like Haydn, whose early keyboard sonatas are called divertimento. However, I would advise anyone to listen to a couple at a time. I listened to the whole set in two sessions and that was sometimes a little tiresome because of the repetition of the same kind of figures in the left hand.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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Manuel Tomadin

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