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Bernardo PASQUINI (1637 - 1710): "Sonate per gravicembalo"

Roberto Loreggian, harpsichorda, spinetb; Francesco Ferrarini, celloc

rec: August 8 - 10, 2002, Baone (Padua), Villa Beatrice
Chandos - CHAN 0704 (© 2004) (75'37")

Alemanda d'Ongheriab; Bergamascab; Canzon franzèsab; Partite del saltarelloa; Partite di bergamascaa; Partite diverse di folliaa; Passagagli in Ca; Passagagli in Gb; Passagagli per le scozzesea; Ricercare con la fuga in più modia; Sonata XIV à basso continuo in a minorac; Toccata in f minorb; Toccata in Gb; Toccata in g minora; Toccata con lo scherzo del cuccoa; Tre arieb; Variationi capricciosea

The second half of the 17th century in Italy still doesn't get the same attention as the preceding period - the time of Monteverdi and Frescobaldi - or the first half of the 18th century. Operas, chamber and orchestral music of that time are not frequently performed and recorded. The same has happened to the keyboard music. Although Bernardo Pasquini (1637 - 1710) composed a large number of keyboard pieces, not many of them have been recorded. This disc which is devoted entirely to his output for keyboard is a most welcome addition to the catalogue.

Bernardo Pasquini was born in Massa Valdinievole in Pistoia, and moved to Rome in 1650, where he spent the rest of his life. He was mainly active as an organist in several churches. From 1664 until his death he was organist of the S Maria in Aracoeli, with the title 'organist of the Senate and Roman people'. He made some appearances outside Italy: in 1664 he travelled to Paris in the entourage of the papal legate, and played for Louis XIV, and he has also been in Vienna at the court of Leopold I. He must have made quite an impression on the emperor, since some pupils were sent to him by Leopold. Other pupils included Johann Philipp Krieger and Georg Muffat and Italians like Francesco Gasparini and Domenico Zipoli, probably also Francesco Durante and Domenico Scarlatti.

As a keyboard player Pasquini was also involved in performances of operas, oratorios and chamber music. In this capacity he worked regularly with Arcangelo Corelli, who was leader of the orchestra in the performance of one of Pasquini's operas. Both were also members of the Accademia Arcadia.

His keyboard works display Pasquini’s strong inclination to the music of the past. He made extensive study of the keyboard works of Frescobaldi and the sacred polyphony of Palestrina. He copied a number of the latter's works. In the liner notes Alessandro Borin refers to a remark attributed to Pasquini: "Whoever claims to be a master of music, or an organist, yet does not taste the honey and drink the milk of those divine compositions of Palestrina, will certainly remain poor for ever".

Only a handful of Pasquini's keyboard works were published during his lifetime. Most of them have come down to us in two manuscripts, mostly in his own handwriting, which are preserved in Berlin and London respectively.
In his compositions Pasquini often links up with the style of Frescobaldi, in particular in those pieces which consist of a sequence of short contrasting sections, held together by the use of the same thematic material. During his compositional career he moved toward a more concise structure, although he kept the 'monothematic' principle alive.
While Pasquini's earliest works, all included in the Berlin manuscript, are predominantly polyphonic, his later compositions are more homophonic or chordal, whereas in some he gives prominence to one particular part.

A very peculiar part of Pasquini's output are 28 sonatas of which only the bass line is written down. The player has to improvise the other parts. Half of these 'basso continuo sonatas' are for two keyboards. These compositions seem to be written for didactic purposes, since they are included in the London manuscript which contains didactic material for Pasquini's nephew and pupil Bernardo Ricordati.

As welcome as this recording is in regard to the repertoire, I feel that an opportunity has been missed to put Pasquini firmly on the map of music history. The combination of Italian music and an Italian keyboard player of the reputation of Roberto Loreggian seems an ideal one, but strangely enough I missed the temperament which I believe a performer of this kind of music needs, and which I had expected from Loreggian. But his playing seems rather cool and distant to me.

Although I think some tempi are too slow, it is in particular the lack of contrast between the sections within a composition which I find disappointing. Another aspect which I noticed is the inconsistency in phrasing. Whereas the phrasing in the Variationi capricciose is beautifully shaped, in the preceding item, the Passagagli in G, it is somewhat unstructured, due to a lack of breathing spaces between phrases.

The playing of some pieces is rather wooden, and lacks rhythmic flair, like the Tre arie. The 'basso continuo sonata' is realised much better, though. In the playing of the bass line as composed by Pasquini Loreggian is joined by the cellist Francesco Ferrarini, who plays with great panache.

Another positive feature of this recording is the use of the spinet, an instrument which isn't getting the attention it deserves in recordings of Italian keyboard music of the 17th century. Considering the remark in the liner notes that the title of the Berlin manuscript - Sonate per Gravicembalo - which gave this disc its title, doesn't imply that all works are intended exclusively to be played on the harpsichord, it is a little disappointing that none of the items has been played at the organ.

I would like to recommend this disc with caution - it is recommendable for those who want to get acquainted with the keyboard music of Bernardo Pasquini, but for those who just want to enjoy a really compelling performance of Italian keyboard music this may not be the first choice.

Johan van Veen (© 2004)

Relevant links:

Roberto Loreggian

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