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GRAMOPHONE (Awards Issue /2015)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp


Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710) is a shadowy one all right. A contemporary in Rome of Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, he mixed in the same environment of high aristocratic patronage (he lived in the palace of Prince Borghese), joining them in a troika of composers deemed  distinguished enough to be admitted to the  Arcadian Academy. The keyboard man of  the three, he was a widely renowned  harpsichordist and teacher whose pupils  included hopefuls from German and Italy,  and it is almost certain that Handel and  Domenico Scarlatti heard him play. Few  today, however, will be familiar with his  music; discs devoted to him are rare.


This new one perhaps shows why, for  whereas the string concertos and sonatas of  Corelli and the vocal works of Scarlatti still  touch modern ears with their vigour and  beauty, Pasquini’s suites, toccatas and  variations sound rather more locked in  the 17th century; and, compared to his  keyboard predecessor Frescobaldi and  successor Domenico Scarlatti, his music  also lacks drama and weight. Yet it is still  worth investigating, and Lydia Maria  Blank, a harpsichordist whose previous  recordings suggest a relish of tougher  assignments than this (has anyone else  ever devoted an entire disc to anonymous  pieces?), certainly finds in it a vein of  eloquence and a sureness of touch at the  keyboard that make his contemporary  reputation understandable.


Pasquini’s suites are melody-led,  thoroughly Italianate (no French-style  broken-chord counterpoint here) and over  in a trice, his toccatas free-roaming and  varied but  likewise on the short side. More  substantial, and more interesting, are his  variation sets, particularly the 17-minute  Variazoni d’Invenzione, which offers  impressive bursts of finger-twisting  virtuosity but ends in beguiling simplicity.  Blank, playing on a surprisingly sweet-toned Italian-style harpsichord with crisp  technique and subtle touch, does a good  job of communicating the pleasing  characteristics of this largely forgotten  keyboard master.



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