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Sebastián Ramón DE ALBERO Y AÑAÑOS (1722 - 1756): "Six Recercatas, Fugas and Sonatas"

Alejandro Casal, harpsichord

rec: August 6 - 8 & Nov 10 - 12, 2014, Sevilla, Sputnik Studio
Brilliant Classics - 95187 (2 CDs) (© 2016) (1.49'00")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Recercata, fuga y sonata No. 1 in D; Recercata, fuga y sonata No. 2 in A; Recercata, fuga y sonata No. 3 in B flat; Recercata, fuga y sonata No. 4 in G; Recercata, fuga y sonata No. 5 in C; Recercata, fuga y sonata No. 6 in E

Source: Obras para clavicordio o piano forte, ms [n.d.]

Spanish keyboard music of the 18th century is almost exclusively identified with two figures: Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Soler. Other composers who were active in this field are largely overlooked. Not that Sebastián de Albero is a completely unknown quantity. His keyboard works have been preserved in two manuscripts. One of them, Sonatas para clavicordio, has been recorded several times, either complete or partly. In contrast, the second collection, Obras, para clavicordio, o piano forte, has hardly been given any attention. As fas as I know, only Andreas Staier recorded two of the six pieces with the unusual title of Recercata, fuga y sonata. The present disc includes all six of them.

Sebastián Ramón de Albero Añanos was born in Roncal in Navarra and was educated as a keyboard player. As a boy he sang in the choir of Pamplona Cathedral and in 1748 he was appointed first organist of the Royal Chapel. At that time Domenico Scarlatti also lived and worked in Madrid. Albero stayed here until his death.

The set of six pieces recorded here is quite unique. First of all, the recercata is an old term which was common in the renaissance, but was completely out of fashion in the 18th century. In the 16th century this word was used by Diego Ortiz for series of diminutions. Albero's recercatas have nothing in common with them. His recercatas are inspired by the French préludes non mesurés of the 17th century. They come without any bar-lines, which requires some improvisatory skills from the performer. Notable is that at the first bar we find the indication ad libitum. Alejandro Casal, in his liner-notes, doesn't give an explanation. Maybe this indicates that these recercatas can be omitted when the player doesn't have the capabilities to realise them. They also include some modulations.

The main part of these pieces are the fugues. These are mostly very long: the longest on this disc is 12'42". They are strictly in two parts; the themes are quite long, sometimes eight not nine bars. To be honest, I don't find them that interesting. These fugues also include long sequences of the same kind of figures, which is immediately discernible, if one looks at the scores. The last section is called sonata. It is in binary form; both sections have to be repeated. These are considerably shorter, and sometimes the number of voices is extended to three. The last sonata includes some very strong dissonants.

I found it rather tiresome to listen to these pieces. After a while I came to the conclusion that the music was not very good. I took into consideration that maybe I needed to listen a second time and then the music would reveal its qualities. However, I found a disc in my collection with two of these pieces, recorded by Andreas Staier. Listening to him I could hardly believe these were the same. His imaginative performance of the recercatas is in strong contrast to the rigid interpretation of Alejandro Casal, who does little more than playing the notes. Staier takes the fugues at the much higher speed: for the Fugue in G he needs just 5'52", whereas Casal takes 7'23". However, it is not only the tempo which is different. Staier creates a more differentiated picture through agogic means and variation in articulation, Casal's tempi are rather uniform, and so is his articulation. That makes the frequent repeats of the same figures hard to swallow. The same goes for the sonatas, although here the differences in tempo are less significant. Here Casal rightly respects the repeats, which Staier ignores.

On the basis of this experience I had to change my mind about these pieces. They seem to be well worth being performed and recorded, but unfortunately the interpretation of Alejandro Casal is hardly a good argument for them. He plays a fine instrument, a copy of an Iberian harpsichord, built in Lisbon by Joachim José Antunes, which is part of the Finchcocks Collection in Goudhurst (Kent, U.K.). In fact, it is a more appropriate instrument for this repertoire than the German harpsichord Staier plays. But its effect is nullified by the rather rigid and unimaginative playing of Casal.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Alejandro Casal

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