REVIEWS:  divine art dda 25007 Galuppi piano sonatas, vol. 2


Over the years, there have been occasional releases of keyboard sonatas and concertos by precursors and contemporaries of Mozart, including a smattering of the sonatas composed by Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785). Galuppi is another of those figures whose contemporary reputation was far-reaching but in the intervening centuries his name has been relegated to the darker recesses of music history. Considered by some to be the father of comic opera, Galuppi's music has been in and out of the catalogs over the years and has also been championed by a number of performers, including conductor Diego Fasolis who recording of Galuppi's comic masterpiece Il mondo alla roversa was relased by Chandos in 2001. But by and large Galuppi's music – be it vocal or instrumental – has failed to gain a secure foothold in the active repertoire.

Be it right or wrong one generally succumbs to the temptation is to compare the unfamiliar to the familiar and this usually results in the unfamiliar getting the short end of the stick. But if this approach is eschewed, an objective listener can – as here – encounter an occasional diamond long sequestered amid the galaxies of sapphires.

These are not sonatas in the sense of those penned by Mozart and Clementi. Instead they lie somewhere between those of Scarlatti and his Iberian disciples, e.g., Padre Antonio Soler, and the mature examples of the genre that seemed to flow in a steady stream from the quills of the masters of Classicism. Schizophrenic via the employment of distinctive stylistic traits of both eras, Galuppi's sonatas are usually written with the melodic interest falling to the right hand and the left hand providing the essential underpinning, frequently in the form of an Alberti bass. They do not consistently approach the level of virtuosity found in the single-movement works of Scarlatti but the lack of unfettered virtuosity is offset by Galuppi's unfailing lyricism and his ability to create cogent and engaging musical ideas that are dotted with an occasional structural or harmonic idiosyncrasy.

There is much melodic beauty in these relatively brief and generally bipartite works and they descend gracefully on the ear, eliciting a wholly positive response from the auditor. My favorites include the first of sonatas in F and the one in D Minor whose first movement melodic content seems to embrace they dying Baroque and could easily have been written by Handel or Bach.

Volume 1 of this series drew much critical acclaim for Sievewright's advocacy of this reperoire, much of which remains unpublished. The sonatas recorded here represent the second installment in the projected cycle of Galuppi's 90 sonatas by Sievewright and the British firm Divine Art and the music could not have a more sophisticated or dedicated advocate. In each sonata he unwraps a musical gift of exquisite beauty, gently embracing and caressing the slow movements with Italianate grace and lyrical expression that border upon the romantic while the more lively sections are permeated with a delightful and appropriate bounce and spontaneity. Seivewright's gentle coaxing produces a kaleidoscopic array of dynamics and a rainbow of colors. These sonatas may never challenge the place of honor held by those of Mozart, but Sievewright pleads both an elegant and eloquent case for a reexamination of his shadowy repertoire.
Michael Carter

This well recorded disc offers a generous view of a Venetian composer once thought to be a serious rival to Vivaldi. He had what was a long life in those days. Born in 1706 and dying in 1785, Galuppi turned out a wealth of music in all the fashionable forms.

Here we have a representative selection of keyboard sonatas. These are more extensive than the single movement works of Domenico Scarlatti, but the individual pieces lack the character and sparkling invention so typical of Scarlatti. However the disc fills a gap, and the music is well played by Peter Seivewright.
Geoffrey Crankshaw

Baldassare Galuppi's place in music history rests chiefly on his role in the development of opera buffa ,yet he composed much other music besides. He also travelled widely, spending time, among other places, in London, Paris and Russia, and it was in the last of these that his reputation as a brilliant keyboard player was mainly established. Grove lists "125 or more sonatas, toccatas, divertimentos, lessons, etc" by him, and these must have been written for the harpsichord although they are described on the above CD as being piano sonatas. It seems these were mostly written form 1755 onwards (Galuppi's dates are 1706-85) and they are in two or occasionally three movements. Most of the movements are in major keys and they are in binary form with repeat marks. The style is similar, given the differences in the mediums, to the arias in Galuppi's operas. Certainly the keyboard writing is entirely idiomatic, with figures passing from one hand to another, arpeggios in both hands and a fair amount of hand-crossing. The form of these little movements, none of which on the above CD lasts more than a few minutes, is concise and Galuppi's treatment of his thematic material is concentrated - which is more than can be said of many of his Italian contemporaries.

Peter Seivewright recorded all these sonatas in the Matt Thomson Concert Hall at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 1999 and his absolutely immaculate execution is matched by the clarity of the recorded sound. He also provides a most interesting note on the relationship between Galuppi, his music, and the Counter-Enlightenment. It is difficult to imagine this particular repertoire being presented to etter advantage.
Max Harrison

The second in Peter Seivewright's complete piano sonatas by Baldassare Galuppi takes us further into the period charms and delights of the composers who carried the music of his age in France forward towards the romantics that followed.
David Robson

Galuppi (nicknamed "Il Buranello" after the island in Venice where he was born) was in his lifetime a well known and very successful musician who also became extremely rich. He is referred to in the famous "Memoires" of Giacomo Casanova. His name was immortalised in the notable poem by Robert Browning named "Toccata of Galuppi's". In his lifetime he was most famous for his operas; he was invited to London in 1741 to write operas for the King's Theatre in London, his operas were successful throughout Europe. Besides opera he wrote oratorios and church music and much instrumental music. Most of Galuppi's keyboard sonatas were written in the last few years of his life and are mostly unpublished. He wrote 90 Piano Sonatas and the precise dating of them is an impossible task. The two discs here are the first two of a planned 10 disc set of all the sonatas. There are eight sonatas on disc 1 and nine on disc 2. Most are of two movements but some have three movements. All are of versions prepared by Peter Seivewright from the original manuscripts.

It seems clear that Galuppi wrote most of these sonatas for the pianoforte (which was just coming into use at the time). On these discs they are played on a Steinway Model D piano, but given a very close recording so as to try to capture the more restricted sound of the 18th century instrument.

What about the music itself? I found it both interesting and tuneful. Many of the sonatas remind me of the style of C P E Bach (whom Galuppi had met in 1765), but several of the sonatas look forward to the music of Mendelssohn and Schumann and it is clear that here we have a composer of original and formidable talent. This music is unknown but certainly deserves hearing. Peter Seivewright (who has recorded piano music of Carl Nielsen and of contemporary Scottish composers) plays with a caressing style which reminds me of Glenn Gould (a pianist whom I admire). He is also clearly a scholar and musical historian of merit as the essays provided by him in the record booklets demonstrate. The notes in Volume 1 are about "Galuppi's life and times" whereas that in volume 2 is a historical and philosophical discussion of "Galuppi, the counter-enlightenment and the Roman Catholic Church" - a fascinating study.

The CDs are well presented and with excellent notes as indicated in the last paragraph. The one thing that is lacking are notes about the individual pieces. I enjoyed these two volumes and can recommend them to anyone looking for piano music away from the beaten track.
Arthur Baker

This is the second volume in Divine Art's complete survey of Galuppi piano sonatas, an important area of compositions that have been overlooked in favour of other more popular keyboard masters such as Scarlatti et al.

Seivwright is an enthusiastic and technically accomplished pianist and he plays with great conviction and flair in all the sonatas presented here. Most are two movement works with the F minor and F major in three movements. This is pleasant listening from first note to last and followers of piano literature will obviously have a ball istening to the works unfold one after the other.

As usual, Stephen Sutton's production and general 'feel' has imparted a top class product. The fastidiously detailed notes by Seivwright himself make for essential reading for all pianophiles and the recording, at the Matt Thomson Concert Hall in Surrey is beyond reproach. Those who have bought Volume 1 will obviously grab this and for newcomers to Galuppi, just grab both volumes and await the third with relish! Gerald Fenech

Galuppi’s keyboard music was brought to the notice of record collectors by a C major Sonata included by Michelangeli in a Decca mono LP recital, and he turned it into a little pearl. Galuppi was also celebrated by Browning, but alas the “Toccata” his poem describes does not actually exist. However, some 90 sonatas do, and they are all being recorded by Peter Seivewright, using a modern piano but with only modest pedalling in slow movements and crisp, clean articulation in Allegros. He is a sensitive artist and obviously enjoys this repertoire, and he communicates this enjoyment to us.

These works appear to be the epitome of simplicity, but in fact they are usually through-composed, so that movements are built, often quite imaginatively and always resourcefully, out of the same basic material. Certain movements stand out, for instance the bouncing Presto second movement of the three-movement Sonata in C minor on the first disc, which is surprisingly like the second movement of the Sonata in G minor which then reuses the same idea for an Allegretto grazioso finale. The sonata which follows (in E major) brings an engaging set of variations for its second movement (of two), and the final sonata of the first volume opens with a delightful Andante e con espressione, the longest movement on the whole disc.

The second volume opens with a winning two-movement Sonata in C, and the works which follow are inventively varied, but in much the same style. When we come to the third volume, we realize that Galuppi is not seeking to break any formal barriers or make harmonic explorations, but applies his ideas within straightforward musical frameworks. Yet the three-movement C major Sonata included here is really very fetching in its simplicity, and the G major and E flat major sonatas are also most appealing. **(*)
(unnamed reviewer)

Baldassare Galuppi was a Venetian who enjoyed a long career as a composer of chamber and keyboard music as well as a great deal of music for the church and stage. A reactionary to the pervading Enlightenment philosophies of his day, Galuppi was heavily influenced by the writings of those who stood in opposition to the likes of Voltaire and Diderot. Rather he espoused the less utilitarian and more romantic views of men like Giambattista Vico (1668-1774), Johann Georg Hamman (1730-1788) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803).

Peter Seivewright is as much the scholar as he is the performer, providing us with a provocative essay on the so-called Counter-Enlightenment, and the effects that the wars and political machinations of Galuppi’s time had on the composer, indeed, had on music history itself. The essay is well written, and I have to stop to give it special praise in light of the ever-diminishing quality of program notes for classical recordings.

The music is elegant, with hints of the past and predictions of the future. As Hans Keller put it, "Great composers link the past with the present. The greatest composers link the past with the future." I believe that Galuppi succeeds in being an original, if not always interesting voice, leaving us with a framework, the architecture of which was patterned after Scarlatti’s blueprint, and upon which greater lights such as Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann would later build.

The music here is charming, but not necessarily memorable. I didn’t find myself whistling any tunes after the pieces were finished. I did, however, find myself stopping to listen again to some elegant turns of phrase and some harmonic progressions that were certainly advanced for their time.

Mr. Seivewright obviously admires this music. His scholarship into the composer’s life and times bears witness to a passion for his work, and a scholarly ethic that commands respect. Alas, I wish that I could be as enthusiastic about his piano playing.

Let’s start first with the instrument itself. Although it is billed as a Steinway "D" model piano, it sounds to my ears as though it is in serious need of refurbishing. The upper registers are clangy and brittle, and overall we never get a truly warm sound. Further, the recording is close, and the sound immediately makes me think that I am listening to a giant piano in a closet. The sound quality becomes a major distraction early on.

Further, I found that I was listening to a very opinionated performance. It is evident that Seivewright has his own ideas about what this music is supposed to sound like. The halting playing, lack of line tension and the image that I was listening to a pianist playing over, rather than through a composer continually disturbed me. (Glenn Gould would have been proud.)

Mr. Seivewright must however be applauded for bringing this composer to light. This is indeed worthy music, and as ever, one can hope that these sonatas might occasionally show up on a recital program. It would be a shame if these elegant sonatas were consigned forever into the specialist’s repertoire. And it is too bad that we have only this interpretation to go on. Valiant as the effort is, and informed and enthusiastic as this performer seems to be, there it too much in the performance to make the listener uncomfortable for me to give this disc an unqualified recommendation.

Should you buy it? If you are a fan of unusual keyboard music, then yes indeed. But it might be more fun to go out and buy the scores and see what you can come up with on your own. I think that the latter experience would be more rewarding than repeated listenings to this recording.
Kevin Sutton