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Benedetto MARCELLO (1686 - 1739): "Complete Sonatas for Organ and Harpsichord"

Laura Farabollini, harpsichorda; Chiara Minali, organb

rec: March 5 - 6, 2017, Castelferro (AL), Chiesa S. Maria Assuntaa; Jan 19 - 20, 2018, Valeggio sul Mincio (VR), Parrocchia San Pietro Apostolob
Brilliant Classics - 95277 (3 CDs) ( 2018) (3.00'07")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
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Ciaccona La Stravaganzab; Fuga per Organo del Signor Benedetto Marcello in e minorb; Fuga per Organo del Signor Benedetto Marcello Nobile Veneto in g minorb; Sonata I in d minorb; Sonata II in Ga; Sonata III in Ca; Sonata IV in g minorb; Sonata V in Fa; Sonata VI in d minorb; Sonata VII in a minora; Sonata VIII in B flatb; Sonata IX in Ab; Sonata X in g minorb; Sonata XI in Da; Sonata XII in c minora; Sonata del Signor Benedetto Marcello in c minorb; Sonata del Signor Benedetto Marcello in G [allegro]a/b*; Sonata del Signor Benedetto Marcello in G [presto]b; Sonata di Organo del Sig. Benedetto Marcello in Cb; Sonata di Sua Eccellenza Benedetto Marcello in Ca; Variationi, o Partite per il Cembalo Organo del Signor Benedetto Marcello Nobile Venetob
(*) This sonata is played twice, on harpsichord and organ respectively

If one thinks of Italian keyboard music of the 18th century, the name of Benedetto Marcello probably doesn't immediately spring to mind. In my collection I have a disc with some of his keyboard pieces, and especially the Fugue in e minor does not sound unfamiliar, but overall Marcello has become better known for his recorder sonatas op. 2 and his collection Estro Poetico-Armonico. Moreover, his satirical writing Il teatro alla moda is often mentioned.

Marcello was of aristocratic birth, which explains why he never was at the service of any patron, court or church. He was what was then called a dilettante. His oeuvre includes some oratorios and other sacred works as well as music for the stage. The largest part comprises chamber cantatas, many of them on his own texts, and duets. He also composed some concertos with obbligato parts for violin and cello and sonatas for recorder and for cello.

The present recording pretends to include the complete keyboard sonatas by Marcello. Unfortunately the liner-notes don't discuss this issue; overall the information about the keyboard music is rather sparse. The work-list in New Grove mentions a total of 35 sonatas, including the twelve numbered sonatas which are part of this recording, and that is much more than what is included here. Maybe some of them are of doubtful authenticity; if that is the case, that should have been mentioned in the liner-notes. With all due respect to Brilliant Classic's willingness to release 'complete' recordings, which I greatly appreciate, here we meet the limitations of a budget label. One cannot expect such recordings being based on scholarly research. Marcello has also written other pieces. Although this set includes some pieces which are not among the sonatas, other such compositions, such as a suite of 30 menuets mentioned in New Grove, are omitted.

The booklet lists twelve sonatas with a number. In New Grove they are dated between c1712-1717. They comprise three or four movements, in no fixed order. Four of the sonatas are in three movements, all but one in the order slow - fast - fast. That points in the direction of the mid-18th century, when this was becoming the most common order. The remaining sonatas are in four movements: a slow opening movement is followed by three fast movements. The exception is the Sonata VII in a minor which comprises five movements: the first is in two sections (presto - adagio), and then we get a cantabile e largo, two fast movements and a menuet.

"Although these compositions do not comprise the originality of the Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, whose work Marcello would certainly have been familiar with, they nevertheless reveal a remarkable degree of variety in their movements", Laura Farabollini states in her liner-notes. It seems to me that such a comparison with Domenico Scarlatti makes little sense. He is not the standard. That said, some movements do remind me of Scarlatti, such as three presto movements from the Sonata II in G (mov. 4), Sonata VIII in B flat and Sonata XII in c minor (mov. 3). The repetitive figures in some movements are not unlike the percussive effects in Scarlatti's sonatas.

However, more notable is the frequent use of chromaticism. The presto which closes the Sonata VI in d minor opens with a descending chromatic figure which is then repeated a number of times with different alterations. That is just one example. Among others movements with chromaticism are the presto from the Sonata VII in a minor and the allegro from the Sonata X in g minor.

The twelve numbered sonatas take the first two discs. The third disc includes separate pieces of different character. The most remarkable piece is the Ciaccona La Stravaganza; according to New Grove it contains 110 variations - I did not count them. Again it includes some chromaticism. The bass pattern comprises twelve notes which are sometimes ornamented. Another long piece is Variationi, o Partite per il Cembalo Organo. The other pieces are sonatas in one movement and fugues.

Whether this recording includes all the sonatas or not, I am glad that it came my way and offered me the opportunity to become acquainted with Marcello's keyboard music. I like what I heard, but to be honest I found the Ciaccona and the Variationi overly long. That may also be due to the performance, or rather the instrument Laura Farabollini plays. I really don't understand why she has chosen the copy of a Taskin, a French instrument from the late 18th century. In the menuet from the Sonata VII in a minor she uses the buff stop, a register alien to Italian instruments. I would like to hear these pieces on an Italian harpsichord. The organ is from the 19th century, but at that time many organs were rather 'old-fashioned' and did not differ that much from instruments of the baroque period. The booklet does not mention which temperament was used. But as there are many passages where the instruments sound somewhat or quite 'out of tune', I wonder whether meantone temperament was used.

Despite some critical remarks, I recommend this set to anyone who loves baroque keyboard music. The two artists play well, especially Chiara Minali, and they give a pretty good impression of what Marcello's keyboard works are about. I hope some day we will see a complete recording of his keyboard oeuvre, based on thorough scientific research, comparable with Francesco Tasini's recording project concerning the keyboard oeuvre of Alessandro Scarlatti (Tactus), and performed with the most appropriate instruments.

Johan van Veen ( 2019)

Relevant links:

Laura Farabollini


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