Notes and Editorial Reviews
Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 2: in B?,
; in d,
; in c,
; in C,
; in E?,
; in d,
; in D,
Matteo Napoli (pn)
class="ARIAL12"> NAXOS 8.572490 (68: 12)
Most people know Baldassare Galuppi (1706–85) as mainly a composer of opera, probably because he was certainly the major figure in Venice during the development of the
in the 1730s. He was, however, also well regarded as a keyboard player, and his music, mainly sonatas, was widely distributed throughout Europe even during his lifetime. Musicologist Hedda Illy catalogued more than 100 of them, but one and a half times as many other works for keyboard, including divertimentos, toccatas, and smaller pieces, have since turned up, making him one of the principal composers alongside predecessor Domenico Scarlatti.
This disc represents the second volume of what will eventually be a complete cycle of Galuppi’s sonatas, performed here on a modern Steinway piano, if the picture of Matteo Napoli on the back of the cover is accurate. Originally, the designations were probably far more generic, as in perform them on whatever keyboard instrument you might happen to have at hand. These are intimate chamber works, meant to provide entertainment in small private settings, and the publication of two sets of these in London between 1756 and 1759 was clearly aimed at the discerning amateur. That is not to say that the sonatas were simple or technically manageable by the intended performers. Rather, they explore a wide variety of styles and abilities that Galuppi no doubt absorbed during his long lifetime. In this particular set, arranged according to no real sequence or pattern, this variety is quite evident. Two of the works are in two movements, a sort of halfway house between the traditional Classical-period sonata and Scarlatti’s single-movement pieces. The first of these on the disc, in D Minor, opens with a lively set of motivic sequences that are spun out in Baroque fashion, making it clearly an early work. The second, also in D Minor, is more of a
form, with a lament first movement that has distinctive Neapolitan operatic roots in its emotional unfolding. The first seems made for harpsichord with its figuration, while the second might require a more nuanced instrument, such as a clavichord. The remainder are the usual three-movement format, all of which begin with a slow movement, followed by a lively Allegro, and concluding with some sort of stylized dance. In the sonatas in B? and C, Galuppi opens with a long lyrical theme above a flowing Alberti bass, simple and eloquent. In the turgid C-Minor sonata, the first movement is a cascade of scales and harmonic twists worthy of C. P. E. Bach. In the E?-sonata, he opens with a nocturne of Mozartean purity, lyrical and sinuous. The fast movements are usually highly virtuosic in their technical displays. In the D-Major sonata, the ever-changing figuration and chromatic lines are like a perpetual motion machine, shifting by phases (or phrases) in a Baroque manner using Classical era harmonies. The final movement of this sonata contains a theme and variations based upon a nice tune that Mozart probably would have killed to have. In the C-Minor sonata, this final movement is turned into a demented minuet, with the melody scurrying through scalar passages in between the block triple meter dance. All in all, these works show that Galuppi was cognizant of the evolution of style during his life and used it to best advantage.
Pianist Matteo Napoli is to be congratulated for persevering in this series, the first volume of which (Naxos 8.52263) I found quite stimulating. His playing is always finely nuanced, with expressive details emerging even during the most mechanical sequential passages. The works, most of which do not have much in the way of dynamic markings apparently, seem to fit quite well on the modern piano, though of course it would be great to have them also on instruments of that period. The piano, though, eliminates the need to determine just which keyboard instrument fits each sonata, perhaps a daunting task. But no matter; this disc is a must-have for those interested in 18th-century keyboard music, and I for one wait with anticipation for the next volume in the series.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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