Baldassare Galuppi was a Venetian who enjoyed a long career as a composer of chamber and keyboard music as well as a great deal of music for the church and stage. A reactionary to the pervading Enlightenment philosophies of his day, Galuppi was heavily influenced by the writings of those who stood in opposition to the likes of Voltaire and Diderot. Rather he espoused the less utilitarian and more romantic views of men like Giambattista Vico (1668-1774), Johann Georg Hamman (1730-1788) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803).
Peter Seivewright is as much the scholar as he is the performer, providing us with a provocative essay on the so-called Counter-Enlightenment, and the effects that the wars and political machinations of Galuppi’s time had on the composer, indeed, had on music history itself. The essay is well written, and I have to stop to give it special praise in light of the ever-diminishing quality of program notes for classical recordings.
The music is elegant, with hints of the past and predictions of the future. As Hans Keller put it, “Great composers link the past with the present. The greatest composers link the past with the future.” I believe that Galuppi succeeds in being an original, if not always interesting voice, leaving us with a framework, the architecture of which was patterned after Scarlatti’s blueprint, and upon which greater lights such as Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann would later build.
The music here is charming, but not necessarily memorable. I didn’t find myself whistling any tunes after the pieces were finished. I did, however, find myself stopping to listen again to some elegant turns of phrase and some harmonic progressions that were certainly advanced for their time.
Mr. Seivewright obviously admires this music. His scholarship into the composer’s life and times bears witness to a passion for his work, and a scholarly ethic that commands respect. Alas, I wish that I could be as enthusiastic about his piano playing.
Let’s start first with the instrument itself. Although it is billed as a Steinway “D” model piano, it sounds to my ears as though it is in serious need of refurbishing. The upper registers are clangy and brittle, and overall we never get a truly warm sound. Further, the recording is close, and the sound immediately makes me think that I am listening to a giant piano in a closet. The sound quality becomes a major distraction early on.
Further, I found that I was listening to a very opinionated performance. It is evident that Seivewright has his own ideas about what this music is supposed to sound like. The halting playing, lack of line tension and the image that I was listening to a pianist playing over, rather than through a composer continually disturbed me. (Glenn Gould would have been proud.)
Mr. Seivewright must however be applauded for bringing this composer to light. This is indeed worthy music, and as ever, one can hope that these sonatas might occasionally show up on a recital program. It would be a shame if these elegant sonatas were consigned forever into the specialist’s repertoire. And it is too bad that we have only this interpretation to go on. Valiant as the effort is, and informed and enthusiastic as this performer seems to be, there it too much in the performance to make the listener uncomfortable for me to give this disc an unqualified recommendation.
Should you buy it? If you are a fan of unusual keyboard music, then yes indeed. But it might be more fun to go out and buy the scores and see what you can come up with on your own. I think that the latter experience would be more rewarding than repeated listenings to this recording.