Gottlieb Muffat was the youngest son of the more celebrated Georg (1653-1704), and spent most of his long life employed by the imperial court of Vienna. Though perhaps not quite the genius his father was, the opening few seconds of Japanese harpsichordist Naoko Akutagawa's recital are all that is required to establish that Muffat junior was still a composer of some originality. These four works, an ear-catching conspectus of his extant corpus, are packed with enough keyboard hex and heterogeneity to leave the listener hoping more lost manuscripts may yet turn up. The dark-edged drama of the Parthie Parisien is especially arresting - that Handel cribbed a number of Muffat's ideas is no surprise. Nevertheless, he was no outright trailblazer, and his harmonically bold, sumptuously ornamented music belongs firmly under the banner of high Baroque - Haydn's Vienna was a parallel one.
The most impressive competition for this Naxos release is a recording of all seven Componimenti Musicali by Mitzi Meyerson on Glossa in 2009 (GCD 921804). That clearly has the edge when it comes to completion, but as a double-disc at more than twice the price of a Naxos single, exists in a different price orbit. There are also older recordings of five or six of the suites by Joseph Payne on Centaur (CRC 2502) and Borbala Dobozy on Hungaroton (HCD 31309-10).
This is Naoko Akutagawa's fifth disc for Naxos, the latest in a cosmopolitan series of complete or selected harpsichord works by Frenchman Gaspard Le Roux (8.557884), German Johann Graupner (8.570459) and Italian Bernardo Storace (8.572209), with a more recent complement of violin sonatas by Franz Benda, accompanying Hans-Joachim Berg (8.572307). Critical assessment of her playing has always been positive, and rightly so: here too she is reassuringly confident and expressive, as well as galvanically virtuosic.
Sound quality is very good too. The period reproduction harpsichord has a quiet mechanism and an earthy masculine tone which, in Akutagawa's poetic hands, even seems amenable to a range of dynamic shadings. Alison Dunlop's interesting booklet notes go into some detail regarding the travels of Muffat manuscripts and the concomitant travails of Muffat musicologists.
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