Francesco Tasini

Alessandro Scarlatti: Opera omnia per tastiera, Vol. 1

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This is the first in a series of discs promising to cover Alessandro Scarlatti's complete works for keyboard. The booklet notes by harpsichordist Francesco Tasini, typically for the specialist Tactus label, goes into considerable technical detail but doesn't touch on basic questions such as the size of the repertoire or how many discs the series will eventually comprise (the list of Scarlatti's keyboard works in Grove's Dictionary is incomplete, but it looks as though two or three discs should cover it). The notes do, however, go a long way toward explaining why this composer's keyboard music, quite famous in its own time, has been almost forgotten, leaving his name associated almost exclusively with vocal music. The problem is that the music is heavily rooted in improvisatory practice and is only partially scored; it thus requires a good deal of scholarly investigation into period performance practice for realization. This was true not only of the works designated as toccatas on this disc but also of those labeled "fuga," and indeed part of the interest of this disc for the general listener is that the genre names obviously meant something different for Scarlatti than they did in Bach's time. The contrast between free toccata and highly structured fugue that defines much of Bach's keyboard music is muted; Scarlatti's fugues were notated, apparently, on a single line, and the performer was expected to imaginatively realize the music in the classic fugue answer pattern. It is for specialists to debate the relevance of the various sources, spelled out in detail, that Tasini uses in reconstructing these works. But there is a good deal to recommend his results to the general listener. First there is the increased understanding of the improvisatory roots of High Baroque keyboard music in general. Furthermore, and most important, is the satisfying quality of Tasini's playing. He conveys the sense of an improviser at work, and he concludes with a grand flourish that represents a real find for Baroque lovers: the massive Toccata VII, a 22-minute compilation of keyboard techniques in six sections, concluding with a turn on the "Follia" bass line. The anonymous Ferrarese eighteenth century harpsichord used is well-suited to Tasini's aims, powerful but not overpowering. This is one of the most musically successful releases yet in the Tactus label's thoroughgoing researches into the neglected stretches of the Italian musical tradition.

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