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Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741) Complete Music for Harpsichord
Partita No. 1 in A minor E115 [19:28]
Partita No. 2 in F E116 [12:37]
Partita No. 3 in A K405 [13:48]
Partita No. 4 in G minor E117 [14:56]
Partita No. 5 in G E70 [20:32]
Capriccio in G minor K404 [22:44]
Ciaccona in D K403 [11:03]
Harpeggio in G E114/1 (Prelude and Fugue) [3:50]
Aria passaggiata in C E114/2 [1:59]
12 Minuets [16:44]
Filippo Emanuele Ravizza (harpsichord)
rec. 2016, House Puricelli, Galliano of Eupilio, Italy DDD BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95189 [61:04 + 77:06]
Brilliant Classics are nothing if not enterprising: early instrumental music has been a cornerstone of their release schedules from the beginning and not only that of the more familiar masters: there are complete harpsichord editions of less celebrated figures such as Le Roux, Duphly and D’Anglebert to name but three, as well as bigger editions for more major players such as Froberger and Handel. This month saw two more names added to the list, individual composers perhaps more associated with faded columns in dusty reference books rather than with the popularity of their instrumental output. In addition to a six disc set of keyboard works by WF Bach (to be reviewed elsewhere on this site in due course) the Dutch label has issued this attractive (if slimmer) set of the complete known harpsichord works of Johann Joseph Fux.
I find it somewhat surprising that the author of Gradus ad Parnassum, sive manuductio ad Compositionem Musicae Regularem (1725) produced so relatively little music for keyboard. His famous primer on counterpoint was the go-to textbook of its time for that art, and proved crucial in the training of both Mozart and Beethoven. Fux was clearly a revered figure of his time (indeed the legendary Ludwig von Köchel later provided one of many catalogues for his oeuvre). He rose from peasant stock to essentially being talent-spotted by Emperor Leopold I in Vienna who had apparently been taken by Fux’s Masses. In terms of recordings it could be argued he is still somewhat under-represented in the catalogues despite sporadic releases of note – one example was last year’s issue on Ricercar, partly dedicated to his splendid Kaiserrrequiem in a revelatory recording by Vox Luminis under Lionel Meunier, coupled with the equally fascinating Requiem by J.C. Kerll.
Filippo Emanuele Ravizza has featured in recordings of obscure harpsichord repertoire before – including the complete harpsichord works of Giovanni Platti, (the Musicweb review can be found here) and works by Domenico Alberti (of Alberti bass fame), both on the Concerto label. He has provided the notes for this Fux disc, and correctly points out that these multi-movement works offer a seamless blend of French and German styles. Having said that, while these pieces are never less than formally convincing, for some listeners the music itself might seem easier to admire than to love.
I have found two other recordings containing selections of this repertoire, by Susanne Pumhösl on Preiser Records (PR90576) and by Dorota Cybulska-Amsler (originally released on the K617 label, now available as a download through Phaia Music). Interestingly Partitas Nos 1 and 3, the Capriccio and the Ciaccona feature on both of these discs and seem to be without question the most absorbing of these works, particularly the extended Ciaccona. One problem with comparison is that the different Fux cataloguing systems (eg the K numbers and E numbers identified here) do not always ensure that the same music is involved. So for example in Partita No 3 while Ravizza’s and Cybulska-Amsler’s third movement is a Gavotte ,for Pumhösl it is a (completely different) Bourrée. This is not the only textual dissimilarity. Ravizza’s notes touch on these ambiguities but the translation stops short of clarifying them.
In terms of recording, the new discs present the more immediate sound picture although the instrument (a 2010 copy of a 1745 Dulcken harpsichord) can sound a little clinical, to my ears at least. Ravizza certainly likes to let the music breathe- both his competitors are quicker throughout the overlapping works but while pieces like the Ciaccona might benefit from this expansiveness, I actually enjoyed the fleeter but paradoxically more considered approach of Pumhösl in the Partitas 1 and 3.. As for the pieces unique to Ravizza’s survey, the Partitas 2 and 5 perhaps convey a more academic countenance than their siblings, while the 12 Minuets which conclude it are entertaining if slight.
Brilliant’s promulgation of this repertoire certainly has to be admired and Ravizza is clearly a technically assured performer; for readers who may be Fux completists or harpsichord aficionados this issue can be warmly recommended; however for others whose curiosity regarding this composer has been pricked I respectfully suggest his sacred music may well make a more lasting first impression.