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Scarlatti Sonatas Vol 2

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Gottlieb MUFFAT (1690-1770)
Suites for Harpsichord vol. 2
Suite in A (MC B16) [15:23]
Suite in d minor (MC B43) [20:03]
Suite in F (MC B9) [12:32]
Suite in C (MC B15) [17:36]
Naoko Akutagawa (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, Schüttbau, Rügheim/Unterfranken, Germany
NAXOS 8.573275 [65:38]

Georg Muffat is one of the better-known composers of the baroque era, and considered the first advocate of the goûts réunis, the mixture of elements of the Italian and the French style. His son, Gottlieb, is far less known, even though he was quite an important figure in his time and a prolific composer. It is telling that George Frideric Handel frequently borrowed from Gottlieb's compositions.

Muffat was born in Passau as the second youngest of nine children. He may have received the first music lessons from his father, who died when he was just 14. He went to Vienna, where he came under the guidance of Johann Joseph Fux, who was court composer to the Habsburg emperors in Vienna. As a keyboard player he became involved in opera performances and was also given the duty to teach the children of the imperial family. One of them was the future empress Maria Theresia. When she became empress in 1741 he was promoted to first organist.

His extant oeuvre comprises almost exclusively keyboard music. However, in the liner-notes to the present disc, the late Alison J. Dunlop, who wrote a biography of Muffat and compiled a catalogue of his works, states that it is likely that he also contributed to other genres, but that a large part of his oeuvre his been lost. Interestingly, the present disc comprises four pieces which also may have been lost, if the library of the Berlin Singakademie had not been discovered in Kiev and returned to Berlin in 2001. This library is a huge collection of music, and the four suites recorded here are part of it.

These pieces were never published, and seem to be not connected in any way. This explains why these four works, despite being called suite, are quite different. Three of them open with a prélude. The one which opens the Suite in A, begins like a French prélude non mesuré, but the second section is a sequence of staccato chords, something one expects in an Italian toccata. After that the piece turns to a series of figurations in the right hand, with the left hand being reduced to an accompanying role.

The number of movements varies from seven (Suite in A) to ten (Suite in C). They consist of the usual dances, such as allemande, courante, sarabande, bourrée, gigue and menuet, but we also find a hornpipe (Suite in A), a fantaisie (Suite in F) and a rondeau (Suite in C). The latter suite is the most unusual of the four. It includes two character pieces, L'allégresse (joy) and Contrefaiseur (impersonator). After a marche the suite ends with a brilliant finale. The same goes for the Suite in F, which also includes a character piece, Postillon. In the Suite in A, the sixth movement is called Coquette (coquettish).

Considering the importance of Gottlieb Muffat and the quality of his keyboard works, which already came to the fore in the first disc that Naoko Akutagawa devoted to his oeuvre, one can only welcome this recording of four suites which all appear on disc for the first time. Ms Akutagawa is a fine player who brings out the qualities of these works quite well. Sometimes I would have liked her to take a little more freedom, and some tempi are a bit slow, such as the courante from the Suite in A. She plays a copy of a Ruckers harpsichord of 1623, which seems not the most obvious choice. I would have preferred a later instrument, German or French. However, the main thing is that four fine hitherto unknown suites are now available on disc. Anyone who wants to extend his collection of keyboard discs should add this disc.

Johan van Veen

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