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Bernardo PASQUINI (1637 - 1710): "Suites and Variations"

Lydia Maria Blank, harpsichord

rec: April 2009 & Dec 2013, Krems an der Donau (A), former Piaristenkirche
Et'cetera - KTC 1532 ( 2015) (79'51")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Corrente con Variazione in A. la mi re; Partite diverse di Follia in d minor; Passagagli in g minor; Suite in e minor; Suite in g minor; Suite in a minor; Suite in b minor; Suite in B flat; Tastata in g minor; Toccata in B flat; Toccata V in e minor; Variazioni in C 'per Petronilla'; Variazioni d'Invenzione in d. sol re

For a long time the oeuvre of Bernardo Pasquini was largely ignored. In recent years his importance as a composer of vocal and keyboard music is being recognized as various discs show. The present disc is another sign that his place in music history is more and more acknowledged.

He was born in Pistoia and died in Rome where he worked most of his life. He performed in other parts of Europe as well, for instance in Paris for Louis XIV and at the imperial court in Vienna. He was considered the most important keyboard player and composer of keyboard music after the death of Girolamo Frescobaldi. He enjoyed the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden and the Cardinals Orroboni and Pamphili. He regularly worked together with Arcangelo Corelli who also was the leader of the orchestra in a performance of one of Pasquini's operas. In 1706 Pasquini became a member of the Arcadian Academy, founded in 1690. He wrote a considerable number of vocal works, especially operas and oratorios. Specimens of the latter are Caino e Abele and the Passion oratorio La sete di Christo.

The largest part of Pasquini's keyboard works was never published during his lifetime. Most of it has been preserved in the Landsberg 215 manuscript at the Staatsbibliothek Berlin. In the 1960s the first edition of his complete keyboard music was printed. It shows great variety in forms: toccatas which show the influence of Frescobaldi, suites of dances, partite (sequences of variations) and passacagli.

The programme concentrates on the genres of the suite and variations. The fact that Pasquini composed suites is rather unusual: he seems to have been the only Italian composer to do so. This was basically a French genre and he may have become acquainted with it during his visit to Paris. However, idiomatically his suites have hardly anything in common with the suites written by French composers.The suites included here all open with an alemanda which is followed by one to three further dances: corrente, giga or gavotta. Some end with a piece called bizzaria. That is to say: that is the title given to some of the movements. Most titles of the movements in these suites are between brackets in the track-list which suggest that they don't appear in the manuscript. The opening movement is mostly the longest, the others are very short. The Suite in g minor has only two movements and is extended here with Passagagli in g minor. The passacaglia was at the time one of the most frequently-used bassi ostinati. The Suite in e minor opens with an alemanda with the addition per l'inglese di Scozia, "probably the same person who is described as "Scozzese" in the Landsberg 215 manuscript", Lydia Maria Blank writes in the liner-notes.

Variations take a special place in Pasquini's oeuvre if we consider their technical virtuosity. The most brilliant piece is the Variazioni d'invenzione in d minor whose title may indicate that the theme was invented by the composer himself. It has a symmetrical structure: in the centre are three variations in the form of a corrente. They are preceded by four variations whose tempi are similar to that of a sonata da chiesa. Could this be the influence of Corelli? The piece ends with four further variations, some of which are particularly virtuosic. That goes especially for No. 8 which "is obviously conceived as a variation in trills, though it actually contains only a few" and No. 9 where the right hand plays a melody in triplets and the left a sharply dotted rhythm. The Variazioni in C 'per Petronilla' constitutes another demanding piece. "The sixth variation reaches a peak in virtuosity and cheerfulness, where the very mercurial left hand has a trill to play on every note - against runs in semiquavers in the right hand". The Partite diverse di Follia in d minor is one of several sets of variations on this theme from Pasquini's pen.

The genre of the toccata is represented by three pieces. The Toccata in B flat is the most 'Frescobaldian' of the three, whereas the Toccata V in e minor comprises two formally separated sections, the second of which is a fugue. The Tastata in g minor is also a toccata; it is not known why Pasquini called it tastata. It has the addition per il Signor Melani, referring to a family of composers and singers who were active in Rome in Pasquini's time.

This is a most interesting disc which includes some brilliant specimens of Pasquini's art. Several discs with his keyboard music have been reviewed here. It is hardly possible to compare them: the present disc doesn't include any reference to the complete edition mentioned above and other recordings make use of different identification tools. It hardly matters: this disc is most welcome anyway, also because of the engaging performances by Lydia Maria Blank. She plays a harpsichord 'in Italian style after originals of the 18th century' with one manual which seems the most appropriate instrument for this repertoire. The way the programme has been put together guarantees a maximum of variety. This is a highly enjoyable disc which lovers of baroque keyboard music shouldn't miss.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

Lydia Maria Blank

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