Harpsichord Sonatas Nos 1-18
Simonetta Heger (harpsichord)
Dynamic CDS7841 62.36 mins
Surprisingly few sonatas survive by the composer hailed by Leopold Mozart as Milan’s ‘best and most esteemed musician.’ Giovanni Battista Sammartini is now best known for his contribution to the development of the symphony, but around 40 keyboard sonatas survive (only a quarter of which were published). Simonetta Heger’s clean and crisp recital presents 18 of them, taken from Mariateresa Dellaborra’s 1999 premiere critical edition.
Dating from between 1720 and 1760, these sonatas represent a melting pot of styles distilled into mostly single or two-movement works. Heger brings out their genteel character, making the Mascheroni harpsichord (a copy of a 1720 Hanoverian instrument by Christian Vater) sing the expressive melodies, resonate through the chromaticism and revel in the curious rhythmic devices that range from the freedom of missing bar lines to contrasting back-to-back patterns.
Sammartini’s ideas are concentrated and often progressive – in search of variety and harmonic innovation. But on the harpsichord things can get pretty intense and, at times, texturally unrelenting. Despite Heger’s variation in registration, I wonder if hearing the late sonatas on a fortepiano would offer a useful alternative take on Sammartini’s rhetorical gestures and interplay of themes. Hannah French