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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725): "Opera omnia per tastiera Vol. VI"

Francesco Tasini, harpsichord

rec: Oct 2015, Modena, Studio G. Monari Massa Finalese
Tactus - TC 661916 (© 2018) (77'52")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

[Arpeggio] in g minor (ASOT 93); Partite sopra Basso obligato in d minor (ASOT 79); Toccata in d minor (ASOT 90); [Toccata] in g minor (ASOT 89); Toccata in a minor (ASOT 76); [Toccata II] in a minor (ASOT 2); Toccata quarta in A (ASOT 60); [Toccata V] in G (ASOT 6); Toccata sesta in G (ASOT 16); [Toccata] e Follia in d minor (ASOT 19); Varie Introduttioni p[er] sonare, e mettersi in tono Delle Composizioni (ASOT 96)
*ASOT refers to Alessandro Scarlatti Opera per Tastiera

Alessandro Scarlatti is almost exclusively known for his vocal music, such as oratorios and in particular chamber cantatas. Instrumental music takes a relatively modest place in his oeuvre. Among that part of his output, the keyboard works are the least known. They are seldom played in recitals, and the number of recordings is limited. However, in recent times these works have been given more attention. That could well be due to the fact that Francesco Tasini and Andrea Macinanti have edited and published Scarlatti’s complete keyboard works; the last volume came from the press in 2017. In 2005, Tasini recorded the first volume in what was to become the only complete recording of the keyboard works. The present disc is the last volume in that project.

It is generally assumed that Scarlatti's keyboard works were written for pedagogical reasons. That may be true, but that does not mean that they are easy stuff. Some pieces, such as the toccatas and the two large sets of variations on La Folia, are anything but easy. The present disc includes 17 Varie Introduzzioni and these are real educational pieces: they take between twenty and thirty seconds, and are called "miniature toccatas" by Tasini in his liner-notes. They are in different keys and are intended as preparatory material for the toccatas. The Toccata II also bears some pedagogical traits. Tasini observes the influence of the practice of the partimento. This is an aspect of performance practice that receives increasing attention these days. New Grove gives this definition of a partimento: "A term used fairly frequently in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to denote exercises in figured-bass playing, not so much as accompaniments to a solo instrument as self-contained pieces." This genre is connected to an important aspect of music making of the 17th and 18th centuries: improvisation. The practice of improvisation is the origin of many keyboard works which have come down to us either in manuscript or in printed editions.

The genre which is most closely associated with this practice is that of the toccata. Scarlatti's oeuvre includes quite a number of such pieces, and some of them are also part of the programme of this disc. The opening Toccata in a minor consists of three movements: a grave is followed by an allegro in the form of a fugue, and a presto, which is modelled after the sonata for a melody instrument and basso continuo. A number of pieces include one or more movements with the indication arpeggio, "conventionally marked with full chords ("a piene mani") in semibreves performed by both hands". Tasini explains how he plays them: "[We] have 'unfolded' and 'loosened' these chords, connecting them by means of short, significant motifs". Arpeggios sometimes also appear separately, and here one of such is sensitively used as an introduction to the Toccata in g minor, which comprises two movements, a largo and an allegro.

As I wrote, the toccatas are often technically demanding, and that certainly goes for the four toccatas which end this disc. They are pretty long and comprise several movements. The most brilliant of these is the Toccata in G, which consists of an allegro, an arpeggio and a fugue. The Toccata in d minor comes in five movements, opening with another arpeggio. The Toccata in A has just two movements, the second of which is a minuet.

The last piece in the programme is the most remarkable: the Toccata in d minor is followed by a series of 22 variations on the famous theme La Folia. It is one of three sets of variations on this theme by Scarlatti. One of them includes only four variations, a second has no fewer than 29, and these are also connected to a toccata (the Toccata del primo tono or Toccata per cembalo d'ottava stesa, included in Vol. 1). Tasini observes some similarity between this set of 22 variations and the famous variations by Arcangelo Corelli for violin and basso continuo, the closing item of his sonatas Op. 5. He mentions that the two composers knew each other well, and were both admitted to the Accademia degli Arcadi in Rome in 1706. These variations are a fine way to end this disc and this series, which reveals the qualities of Alessandro Scarlatti as a player of the keyboard and composer of music for it. The skills of his son Domenico are much admired, but listening to Alessandro's keyboard music, one realises from whom he inherited those skills.

Francesco Tasini is an excellent advocate of Alessandro's keyboard works. His edition of these pieces is of major importance and his series of recordings is a convincing demonstration of their quality. He plays a nice instrument, an original Italian harpsichord of an anonymous maker, restored in 2001. Those who own previous volumes of this project will not hesitate to add this final volume to their collection. Those who don't have heard any of them should definitely investigate them. This disc brings to a close one of the major recording projects of the last decade.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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