Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Opera omnia per tastiera vol. VII
Francesco Tasini (harpsichord, organ)
rec. 2015, Studio G. Monari, Massa Finalese; 2019, Basilica di S. Maria di Campagna, Piacenza, Italy
TACTUS TC661991 [73:52]
Alessandro Scarlatti is almost exclusively known for his vocal music, such as oratorios and in particular chamber cantatas. Instrumental music takes a relatively modest place in his oeuvre. Among that part of his output, the keyboard works are the least known. They are seldom played in recitals, and the number of recordings is limited. However, in recent times these works have been given more attention. That could well be due to the fact that Francesco Tasini and Andrea Macinanti have edited and published Scarlatti’s complete keyboard works; the last volume came from the press in 2017. In 2005, Tasini recorded the first volume in what was to become the only complete recording of the keyboard works. The recording under review here is the last volume in this project.
It is generally assumed that Scarlatti's keyboard works have a pedagogical purpose. That is certainly the case with the fifteen fugues which take the entire first disc of this set. As the largest part of Scarlatti's keyboard works, these pieces were not printed and have been preserved in manuscript. Scarlatti spent most of his career in Naples, and it is in the library of the Conservatorio S. Pietro a Majella in Naples that this collection has been preserved. The fugues are all in two parts, but - as Tasini explains in his liner-notes - they are not meant to be played as written down. These pieces are intended as exercises in the art of counterpoint. It is the task of the performer to add a third or even a fourth part to what Scarlatti has written. That is the way Tasini performs them here. His elaborations are also available in a printed edition. However, ideally future performers should create their own versions of these fugues. The fact that they are intended as pedagogical material does not in any way diminish their musical value. These fugues are excellently written pieces and performers of (Italian) keyboard music should consider including them in their programmes.
The second disc consists of eight separate pieces of different character. The first is a set of partite, a term which was also used in the early 17th century, and which we find in the oeuvre of Girolamo Frescobaldi. The word partita was used for a variation, and this piece comprises twelve variations. It is preserved in manuscript at Yale University (New Haven, USA). Next are two pieces from a manuscript preserved in the library of the University of Coimbra in Portugal. Tasini believes they are of Roman origin and sees a similarity between the Andante in C and the oeuvre of Bernardo Pasquini, the Roman organist who was considered the greatest Italian keyboard composer after the death of Frescobaldi. The two following pieces are from a manuscript in the British Library in London. The first comes without a title and is called here Tastatura. The second is one of many toccatas from Scarlatti's pen. This genre roots in the then common practice of improvisation. The previous volumes in this project include many pieces of this kind.
The disc also ends with two toccatas and one piece without a title that is of the same character and therefore also called a toccata here. All of them comprise two or more movements, and in that respect one could compare them with Johann Sebastian Bach's harpsichord toccatas. The first has been preserved in several sources, and some of them include fingering directions, a clear token of its pegagogical nature. The Toccata IX in G has four movements, the first of which is called arpeggio. The last toccata has again four movements, including a minuet. This piece also appeared in a previous volume, and was performed there on the organ. Here Tasini plays it at the harpsichord, like the two previous pieces on this disc, "in order to give the listener a concrete model of the differences in expression and in performance practice
between the organ and the harpsichord."
The harpsichord is an anonymous instrument from the 18th century. The organ dates from 1836 and one may wonder why such a late instrument was chosen. The choice is not discussed in the booklet, but as Italian organ building was pretty conservative, there is little difference between this instrument and organs of a much older date. The disposition and the sound of the organ fit Scarlatti's music very well.
Francesco Tasini has proved to be a most eloquent and convincing advocate of Scarlatti's keyboard music. Due to his stylish and engaging performances, he shows that this is more than just pedagogical stuff, but excellent music in its own right. The fact that the recording is based on his own edition of the music, is one of the assets of this project. I have not seen the printed editions, and therefore I don't known whether information about the music is available in English. It is to be hoped that Scarlatti's keyboard works are or will be analyzed in a monograph in proper English. It is regrettable that the last volume is accompanied by a booklet in which the English translation of Tasini's liner-notes is sometimes completely unintelligible. It should have been corrected by a native English speaker.
Fortunately the performances leave nothing to be desired. This disc marks the conclusion of one of the major recording projects of recent times.
Johan van Veen
Fuga I in D minor [5:06]
Fuga II in D minor [4:13]
[Fuga] III in D minor [2:27]
[Fuga IV] in E minor [5:56]
[Fuga V] in E minor [4:55]
[Fuga VI] in F [4:19]
[Fuga VII] in F [3:35]
[Fuga VIII] in G [4:08]
[Fuga IX] in G [3:55]
[Fuga X] in A minor [7:12]
[Fuga XI] in A minor [5:03]
[Fuga XII] in C [3:03]
[Fuga XIII] in C minor [4:51]
[Fuga XIV] in C [3:23]
[Fuga XV] in D [6:52]
Varie Partite obbligate al Basso in C [5:50]
[Andante] in C [2:11]
[Fuga] in C [4:23]
[Tastatura] in C [2:43]
Toccata p(er) Cembalo in A [5:50]
Toccata in G* [6:49]
Toccata IX in G* [5:19]
[Toccata] 4a in E minor* [10:11]