Italian musicians had an enormous impact on Russia in the eighteenth century; without them, Russia might never have enjoined the canon of Western music as it has, and the first generations of professional Russian composers were trained by traveling Italians working for the monarchal courts. Vincenzo Manfredini entered into the service of Grand Prince Peter in the late 1750s, but by 1765 was out of favor by reigning empress Elizabeth II, who had brought in Baldassare Galuppi to handle most of the frontline musical duties of the court. In a bid to restore his standing, Manfredini composed his Six "St. Petersburg" Harpsichord Sonatas in 1765, and though their reception didn't work out as Manfredini had intended, the composer himself regarded this set as his signature keyboard works. After he resigned from the Russian court in 1769, Manfredini returned to Italy and stopped composing. Nearly 30 years later, Manfredini returned to St. Petersburg at the request of his former patron, who had acceded to the throne as Peter III. At that time, Manfredini inquired as to the status of the sonatas, only to discover that his presentation score could not be found. He died within a few months of that disappointment.
Fast forward a century and a half and copies of a couple of the sonatas are discovered in Bologna. Some years later still, this development inspired Russian harpsichordist Vladimir Radchenkov to dig a little deeper at home, and the manuscript that even Manfredini couldn't find was eventually turned up. Here, on IM Lab's Vincenzo Manfredini: Six Sonatas for Harpsichord Dedicated to Empress Catherine II, Radchenkov records this significant set of six for the first time. Neither IM Lab nor Radchenkov, in his notes disclose the type of harpsichord in use here, but it is a loud instrument with a wonderful, clattery sound tuned to a pungent meantone and recorded very closely. The first sonata in E flat doesn't yield anything particularly special, and if Catherine II's ears stopped working during the first sonata, then one could justify her poor opinion of this set. However, the Sonata Seconda is especially weird; there are jarring moments where Manfredini puts on the brakes in the first movement, and oddly spelled scalar passages abound throughout. The Sonata Terza in D minor opens with a lovely and expressive Larghetto that's as beautiful as in any of the too-few slow sonatas composed by Domenico Scarlatti, and with perhaps more of a sense of variety.
Those who love harpsichord music will get an unexpected treat here. As only a single keyboard concerto bearing his name has been recorded, this disc can be rightfully cited as the instance in which Vincenzo Manfredini himself truly joins the canon of Western music, apart from his work as a theorist, much as he helped his adopted country to do so.