musica Dei donum
Nicoleta Paraschivescu, harpsichorda, organb;
Katharina Heutjer, violinc
rec: Nov 6 - 7, 2016, Arlesheim, Domb; March 27 - 29, 2018, Basel, Musik-Akademie (Grosser Saal)a
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075896222 (© 2018) (54'19")
Cover & track-list
Giuseppe DOL (?-1774):
Partimento in c minora ;
Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755):
Fugue in e minorb ;
Fugue in g minora ;
Intavolatura in a minorb ;
Partimento in Da ;
Partimento in Fa ;
Partimento in g minor (G¡237)a ;
Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740-1816):
Canzona in d minor 'La Partenza'ac ;
Partimento in C (G¡2320)a ;
Partimento in c minor (G¡2322)a ;
Partimento in D (G¡2330)b ;
Partimento in D (G¡2331)a ;
Partimento in d minor (G¡2319)a ;
Partimento in d minor (G¡2321)b ;
Partimento in E flat (G¡2328)a ;
Partimento in F (G¡2336)a ;
Partimento in f minor (G¡2345)a ;
Partimento in g minor (G¡2334)a ;
Partimento in A (G¡2335)a ;
Partimento in a minor (G¡2315)a ;
Preludio e Rondò in B flata ;
Rondò in c minorac 
 Sonate per organo di varii autori, [n.d.];
 Giuseppe Dol, Regole per accompag[nare] il Basso, [n.d.];
Francesco Durante,  Partimenti, ossia intero studio di numerati, [n.d.];
 Regole e Partimenti, [n.d.];
 Domenico Cimarosa, Partimenti du Domenico Cimmarosa, 1762;
Giovanni Paisiello,  Regole per bene accompagnare il Partimento, o sia il Basso Fondamentale sopra il Cembalo del Signor Maestro Giovanni Paisiello, 1782;
 Raccolta di varij Rondeaux, e Capricci col l'accompagnamento di violino, 1783
It is always nice when performers dare to leave the well-trodden paths and explore repertoire which is hardly known and seldom performed. That is the case with the present disc, which is devoted to a specific genre of keyboard music, known as partimenti. 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." The performer, Nicoleta Paraschivescu, in her liner-notes, quotes musicologist Thomas Christensen, who summarizes the difference between a partimento and a figured bass. "[Johann] Mattheson repeatedly reiterated that a continuo realization was only a kind of Handsachen demanding knowledge of keyboard playing, but in no way commensurate with the art of composition. In Mattheson's view, composition was a Setz-Kunst requiring mastery of counterpoint and harmony, to be sure, but above all, the ability to invent melodies. This had as much to do with a continuo player supplying chords above a bass line as the rules of architecture do with a brick layer. Rousseau expressed it this way: expecting the beginning student to know the rules of composition in order to learn to realize a thorough bass was much like demanding one be a competent orator before one could learn to read." She then concludes: "In short, thorough-bass is a partial area of the partimento practice and a prerequisite for its execution and mastery."
In this recording she focuses on collections of partimenti by Giovanni Paisiello and Francesco Durante. The former is of the same generation as the classical composers Mozart and Haydn, whereas Durante is a representative of the late baroque period. In his time, in which the galant idiom was dominating, he was considered rather conservative, as in his oeuvre counterpoint takes a central place. Unlike most of his Neapolitan contemporaries - and unlike Paisiello - he was not active as a composer of operas. In contrast, some music lovers will be surprised that Paisiello did compose other stuff than operas.
Paisiello put together two collections of partimenti. One of them was the fruit of his position as the teacher of the Russian Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna, when he worked as maestro di cappella at the court of Catherine the Great in St Petersburg. The Regole Per bene accompagnare il Partimento, o sia il Basso Fondamentale sopra il Cembalo were printed in 1782, and include 45 partimenti. It makes much sense to combine pieces from this collection with comparable pieces by Durante, not only because of the similarity in character, but also because Durante was Paisiello's teacher. His partimenti were not printed, but are included in the exercise-book of Domenico Cimarosa, another student of Durante.
Obviously it is the task of the interpreter to work out partimenti, and as a result the performances of one and the same piece can be quite different. Paraschivescu mentions that there are very few examples of realisations from the time they were written. However, a few written-out portamenti are included in a collection of keyboard pieces by Neapolitan composers, among them Durante, which is preserved at the Istituto Archeologico in Rome. Two specimens are performed here: the Fugues in e minor and in g minor as well as the Intavolatura in a minor, all by Durante.
Although partimenti only comprise a single bass line, they are different in character. About Paisiello's partimenti Paraschivescu states: "They are particularly convincing due to their artistic quality. Paisiello's partimenti are abbreviated 'works of art' in reference to different musical genres and prevailing musical tastes. Upon closer examination, many partimenti display characteristics that could be brought into connection with then popular genres of the time, such as the symphony, overture, concerto, aria or cavatina, siciliano and fugue. Thereby, it becomes apparent that one understands the various manners of performance of the partimenti better when one takes into account their genre-specific context and the related character." That is confirmed by the way the portamenti are played here by Paraschivescu, on harpsichord and organ. There is quite a difference between the slight Intavolatura in a minor by Durante, mentioned above, and, for instance, the Partimento in C (Gj2320), which has an orchestral character and includes some passages of an improvisatory nature, referring to the toccata, a typical keyboard genre of the baroque period.
The pieces from the two collections of portamenti are extended by pieces from another source, the Raccolta di Varij Rondeaux, e Capricci, written by Paisiello, and published in 1783. These pieces were intended for musical amateurs of the middle classes and have a pedagogical character. It includes 43 pieces for either keyboard or keyboard with violin accompaniment. The latter was a particularly popular genre, and especially in Germany and France many such pieces were written and printed. In some cases the violin part is ad libitum and can be omitted. That seems not the case in two specimens included here. In the Rondo in c minor, for instance, the roles of the two instruments are switched around the ritornellos. Paraschivescu points out that there is a connection between the two collections by Paisiello. The harpsichord part of the canzona La Partenza is partially notated in the accompaniment sections in the form of a figured bass, which requires filling out.
I have no idea how many portamenti were written and published during the 18th century, and Paraschivescu doesn't discuss that issue. The only other collection that I know of is a set of fourteen Sonate a due cimbali of 1704 by Bernardo Pasquini. These are available in several recordings. One thing is for sure, the portamento was a substantial part of the musical education of keyboard players. This disc proves that one can make music from it which is valuable in its own right. Certainly harpsichord aficionados will love this disc. If they want to know more about this kind of stuff, one can turn to Paraschivescu's website devoted to the subject. She also published a book about it. Here she proves to be a fine player who makes the best out of this material. She plays with the right amount of freedom and has no lack of improvisational skills. There are some stylish contributions from Katharina Heutjer in the pieces with violin.
Johan van Veen (© 2019)