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Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697 - 1763): "Complete Music for Harpsichord and Organ"

Stefano Molardi, harpsichorda, clavichordb, organc

rec: August 2017, Rezzato (Brescia), Santuario della Madonna di Valverdec; Sept 2017, Corte de' Frati (Cremona), Auditorium della 'Casa d'organi' Daniele Gianiab
Brilliant Classics - 95518 (3 CDs) (© 2018) (3.56'00")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata I in D, op. 1,1a; Sonata II in C, op. 1,2a; Sonata III in F, op. 1,3a; Sonata IV in g minor, op. 1,4b; Sonata V in c minor, op. 1,5c; Sonata VI in E, op. 1,6a; Sonata VII in F, op. 4,1a; Sonata VIII in c minor, op. 4,2a; Sonata IX in G, op. 4,3c; Sonata X in a minor, op. 4,4c; Sonata XI in c minor, op. 4,5a; Sonata XII in C, op. 4,6c; Sonata XIII in Fc; Sonata XIV in Ca; Sonata XV in Fa; Sonata XVI in Fa; Sonata XVII in B flata; Sonata XVIII in E flata

Sources: 6 Sonates pour le Clavessin sur le goût italien, op. 1, 1742; 6 Sonate per il cembalo solo, op. 4, 1746

Giovanni Benedetto Platti seems to be quite popular these days. In recent years quite a number of discs with chamber music from his pen have crossed my path and have been reviewed on this site. Although his keyboard music has been recorded before, this production by Brilliant Classics is the first which includes Platti's complete keyboard oeuvre.

He was born in Padua or its neighbourhood; the year of his birth is not fully established, but there are strong indications that it was 1697. From 1722 until his death Platti worked in Germany, mostly at the court of the the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg, first Lothar Franz (who died in 1724) and then, from 1729 onwards, Johann Philipp Franz. Between 1724 and 1729 he mainly worked for Lothar Franz's brother Rudolf Franz Erwein in Wiesentheid. The latter was an avid player of the cello and collected large amounts of music for his instrument. Platti also composed a number of pieces for the cello. He was proficient in several instruments, including the keyboard.

Platti left 18 sonatas: twelve were published in two collections of six each in Nuremberg as his Op. 1 (1742) and Op. 4 (undated) respectively, the other six have been preserved in manuscript. There is some development within Platti's oeuvre for the keyboard. In the Op. 1 he generally prefers the four-movement form whereas later sonatas are often in three movements. There is much variety within the corpus of the sonatas. Movements have either a bipartite or a tripartite structure and are either monothematic or bithematic. Whereas in the mid-18th century the right hand has most of the thematic material and the left hand is often reduced to a mere accompanying role, including the playing of Alberti basses, Platti's sonatas show more differentiation in this regard. In some movements the left hand only plays chords, but for instance in the allegro which closes the Sonata in g minor, op. 1,4, the role of the left hand is substantial. The titles of the movements indicate only a general tempo, such as allegro or adagio. However, the adagio from the Sonata in F, op. 1,3 is in fact a menuet with trio.

Stylistically we find in Platti's keyboard oeuvre traces of the galant idiom, but also of the Empfindsamkeit, of which Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the main exponent. The lyricism of the slow movements refers to the world of opera. A particular interesting aspect is that in some ways Platti's sonatas point in the direction of the classical style.

In his recording of Platti's sonatas, Filippo Emanuele Ravizza (Concerto) confined himself to the harpsichord. Elaine Funaro (Wildboar) played some sonatas at the fortepiano, on a copy of a Cristofori of 1726. In the present recording, Stefano Molardi plays three different instruments: the harpsichord, the clavichord and the organ. Let's look at the various possibilities.

The choice of a keyboard instrument is not an easy one. We often don't know exactly for what kind of instrument a composer wrote his music or on which instrument he played his works. Johann Sebastian Bach, for instance, played various, sometimes quite different, organs during his career, and it is often impossible to tell whether he composed some piece with a specific instrument in mind, and, if so, which. In the case of strung keyboard instruments it is even harder to decide what is the most appropriate for someone's music. Domenico Scarlatti worked for most of his life at the court in Spain. It owed not only Iberian instruments, but also French harpsichords. That seems to open the possibility to play at least some of his sonatas on such an instrument.

As Platti composed his keyboard works during his time in Germany, it is logical to look for a German instrument for the performance of his sonatas. The choice of an Italian harpsichord of the 17th century, with just one manual, by Molardi is rather strange. There is nothing wrong with the instrument, but I doubt whether its characteristic sound is what Platti had in mind, while writing his sonatas. A two-manual German instrument may have been a much more logical option.

In contrast, it was a very good decision to include a clavichord. Most keyboard music, and certainly the part that was printed, was intended for amateurs, and among them the clavichord was the most popular keyboard instrument. It was smaller and cheaper than the harpsichord. Its role in the performance of German keyboard music of the 17th and 18th centuries is still rather underestimated. Therefore it is a bit disappointing that Molardi plays it in just one sonata.

The performance of a number of sonatas on the organ is probably the most debatable part of this production. Molardi, in his liner-notes, states that "the decision to play some of them on the organ derives from the score itself, which puts to good use certain registers of the Bonatti organ of 1713, such as the cornetto and the Pastorale (reed stop), and also accentuates particularly intense affetti, as with the Sonata No. 5 in C minor." However, this seems to be his interpretation of the scores. In the liner-notes to the recordings I mentioned above, I did not find any mention of the organ. From that we may conclude that the scores don't include specific references to the organ (such as stops). That in itself does not exclude the option of an organ. However, if the organ is used, an Italian instrument is an unlikely choice, even more so than an Italian harpsichord. And although during the 18th century non-liturgical music could be played at the organ, a large organ in a church is hardly a logical option. An instrument, such as was owned by Anna Amalia, sister of Frederick the Great, and for which Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote six sonatas, would have been a tenable choice.

This particular organ causes a specific problem: in some sonatas the organ seems to be out of tune. Obviously that is not the case, but the effect of its temperament. The booklet does not mention it, but I suspect that it is in meantone temperament. That seems hardly appropriate for Platti's sonatas.

Lastly, Molardi did apparently not consider the use of a fortepiano. He does not discuss that possibility, but it seems a legitimate option. Before his departure to Germany, Platti was in Siena. Here he could have become acquainted with Cristofori's invention. Alberto Iesué, who published a catalogue of Platti's oeuvre, states: "In Siena (...) from 1717 until her death in 1731, Violante Beatrice di Baviera, widow of Grand Prince Ferdinand, was 'Governor of the City and the State' (...). Violante was a cultured, intelligent and well-read woman who also played the harpsichord and the flute; it was thanks to her, who had known Cristofori in Florence and probably possessed one of his instruments, that Platti was able to familiarise himself with the increasingly popular newcomer" (Platti, 'Concerti per il Cembalo obligato', Arcana, 2014). This is confirmed in a letter by a contemporary, which includes a passage, saying that Platti "composed celebrated sonatas for the Cembalo a martelletti with which he became acquainted in Siena (...)". Moreover, Platti's keyboard works never exceed the range of four octaves (C-c''') which is the range of all of Cristofori's extant instruments. Iesué suggests that Gottfried Silbermann, the first German to build fortepianos, may have become acquainted with Cristofori's instruments through Platti. How Platti's sonatas sound on the fortepiano is demonstrated on the Arcana disc as well as in the recording by Elaine Funaro (Wildboar, 1999).

Setting aside all these considerations regarding the choice of instrument, I am happy with this production. Molardi delivers outstanding performances, which are often outright exciting. They leave little doubt about the quality of Platti's keyboard sonatas. It is a bit of a mystery, why they receive so little attention, compared with other keyboard music of his time. Molardi, in his liner-notes, refers to Daniel Gottlob Türk, who in his Clavierschule of 1789, has some interesting things to say about the interpretation of keyboard music, for instance with regard to 'extemporaneous ornamentation', differentiation of tempo and rubato. The question, of course, is to what extent his remarks can be applied to music of a much earlier time. That goes especially for the aspect of ornamentation, where one can easily go too far. Whether that is the case here, is something I leave to the listener. Let me say that this recording is musically compelling, offers food for thought with regard to performance practice, but also raises questions about the choice of instruments. That is not a bad score for a production at a budget label.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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