Anna Paradiso was born in Italy and was first educated as a pianist.
She then turned her attention to the harpsichord, following an academic
career at the same time. After having received a post-doctorate she
decided to concentrate fully on a career in music. She is the harpsichordist
of the ensemble Paradiso Musicale whose disc "The Father, the Son
and the Godfather" was reviewed here
She seems to have taken the right decision, as this disc shows. She
plays three instruments: copies of a harpsichord by Blanchet (1730),
of a Neapolitan harpsichord from around 1650 and of an anonymous Flemish
instrument from the late 17th century.
This is probably Ms Paradiso's first recording as a soloist, and the
programme is quite remarkable for a debut disc. Obviously some of
the best-known and most frequently-performed composers, such as Domenico
Scarlatti, Girolamo Frescobaldi and Johann Jacob Froberger, are represented.
However, the selection of pieces by Alessandro Scarlatti and Pietro
Domenico Paradies is far less conventional. The most unusual choice
is the Concertino by Walter Leigh.
The programme opens with the Sonata in d minor
(K 141) by Domenico
Scarlatti. It is one of his best-known, an exuberant piece whose percussionistic
passages show the influence of Iberian music. Ms Paradiso delivers
an anything but straightforward performance, thanks to a well-dosed
rubato and giving full weight to the various pauses. If one then listens
to the Folia variations from the Toccata VII
by his father,
one understands the source of his talent. Alessandro's keyboard music
is the most neglected part of his oeuvre, and it cannot be appreciated
enough that Ms Paradiso takes it seriously. In New Grove
Boyd does this repertoire great unjustice by calling it "pupil fodder".
Another connection between composers is illustrated by the pieces
by Frescobaldi and Froberger. The latter comes first, with his Toccata
in a minor
which comprises a sequence of contrasting sections
with various sudden pauses. This piece is a specimen of the stylus
which had been developed in Italy in the early 17th
century. Frescobaldi was one of its founding fathers, and these two
toccatas from his pen are ample illustrations of his influence on
Froberger. Ms Paradiso is wrong, by the way, when in her liner-notes
she states that today Froberger is "thoroughly underestimated". In
fact he is one of the most frequently-performed composers of keyboard
music from the 17th century and his oeuvre is well represented on
As I already indicated the choice of a sonata by Pietro Domenico Paradies
or Paradisi is rather unusual. He was from Naples and a pupil of Porpora.
In 1746 he settled in London. The Sonata VII in B flat
a set of twelve which was published there in 1754 and enjoyed various
reprints until 1790. The whole set has been recorded by Filippo Emanuele
Paradisi composed in the galant idiom, but various movements include
episodes of a contrasting character. The allegro from this sonata
turns to a pretty dark mood in the second half.
French music is also represented. Jean-Henry d'Anglebert was a pupil
of Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, who is considered the
father of the French harpsichord school. D'Anglebert's music is heavily
indebted to the style brisé
of the French lute school.
The three pieces from the 3e Suite in d minor
in character. The first is an improvisatory prélude non
, the second an allemande
of a quiet, rather
majestic character, whereas the courante
is the most brilliant
of the three. Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer is one of the late representatives
of the French harpsichord school. His keyboard works are strongly
influenced by opera, and include transcriptions of pieces from his
own operas. Le Vertigo
is an example of a character piece,
a genre which has been very popular in France since the late 17th
century. During the 18th century this kind of pieces became increasingly
extraverted and virtuosic. Le Vertigo
means 'the capricious',
and that is well expressed in the music, which contains strong contrasts
in tempo and Affekt
. It is also one of Royer's most 'tumultuous'
pieces, with heavy and frequently repeated chords at high speed. Ms
Paradiso delivers a brilliant performance.
Lastly, two compositions for harpsichord and strings. The Concerto
in f minor
(BWV 1056) is one of Johann Sebastian Bach's best-known
harpsichord concertos. Anna Paradiso sees the first movement as an expression
of great unsettlement, "a troubled mind and a distorted voice". That
is how she plays the piece, at a pretty high speed, agitated, with much
rubato. One wonders if her interpretation would have been different
if she had followed Aapo Häkkinen's example who played this concerto
in the key of G minor which is the key of Bach's own revised version
- his recording was reviewed here
After all, the description of these two keys by Johann Mattheson is
very different. The slow movement is ornamented with beautifully-played
trills. In the last movement Ms Paradiso plays an extended cadenza.
I am not sure whether that is in line with Bach's intentions. The strings
play well; they use baroque instruments but I feel that their characteristics
are not fully explored here.
Obviously such instruments are not required in the Concertino
for harpsichord and strings by Walter Leigh. It dates from 1934 and
was written under the influence of the emerging early music movement
in which the Dolmetsch family and their friends played a crucial role.
Ms Paradiso uses the score which was once owned by Carl Dolmetsch's
harpsichordist for many years, Joseph Saxby. It is full of dynamic
indications which is to be expected as the solo part was written for
the then dominant kind of harpsichord, including pedals which allowed
dynamic changes during play. It is the kind of harpsichord we know
from Wanda Landowska's recordings. A performance at the French harpsichord
is not 'authentic' as Ms Paradiso admits. I am not sure whether Leigh
intended the string parts to be performed with one instrument per
part as is the case here. The balance between the 'baroque' harpsichord
and the modern strings is a little problematic, even in this 'minimalist'
approach. This is not my kind of music, but its presence shows Ms
Paradiso's enterprising mind. That also comes to the fore in the intelligent
liner-notes which offer interesting remarks about performance practice.
To sum up, this is a very fine debut by a harpsichordist of whom I
hope to hear more. This interesting and well-played programme should
be attractive to all lovers of the harpsichord.
Johan van Veen
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in d minor (K 141) [4:19]
Walter LEIGH (1905-1942)
Concertino for harpsichord and strings* [9:18]
Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Toccata in a minor (FbWV 112) [3:46]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Toccata VII, 1° tono. Toccata per cembalo d'ottava stesa:
Pietro Domenico PARADIES (PARADISI) (1707-1791)
Sonata VII in B flat [8:02]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Toccata VIII (1615) [4:42]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in f minor (BWV 1056)*
Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691)
3e Suite in d minor:
Toccata VII (1615) [4:30]
Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace ROYER (1705-1755)
Le Vertigo, rondeau [5:43]