Monday, May 3, 2010

In review--Back from the Archives

Javier Perianes
Blasco de Nebra Piano Sonatas (1750-1784)
Harmonia Mundi

Baroque/classical composer and keyboardist Blasco de Nebra is only the second obscure Spanish wunderkind that has come to my attention in the last 2 years. The first one was a promising 19th century Basque composer Juan Crisòstomo Arriaga who died at a young age. De Nebra produced 172 compositions, but only 30 survived. The Andalusian composer died at the age of 34, not unlike his contemporary Mozart. But while Mozart has been celebrated to the hilt and loved worldwide, de Nebra has barely emerged from the shadows of obscurity. Certainly not for lack of talent or vision.

Pianist Javier Perianes, also an Andalusian, performs Keyboard Sonatas op. 1 (from Madrid) and sonatas and pastorelas from the Manuscript 2998 found in the archives of Montserrat. While the work would have originally been played on harpsichord and fortepiano, Perianes plays the sonatas on a contemporary piano giving these baroque pieces a modern sound. Though if you listen closely you can imagine the quicker passages played on a harpsichord.

De Nebra found his inspiration in the works of Scarlatti (who was of Spanish and Italian heritage). According to the liner notes (which I truly needed in this case), “A man of his time, a contemporary of Haydn, Mozart and the sons of Bach, Blasco de Nebra enthusiastically embraced the heritage of Scarlatti, who spent long periods in Seville between 1728 and 1733 during the Spanish court’s visits to the Andalusian capital…”

Similar to his father, de Nebra worked as an organist for a cathedral where he was also an ordained priest. Following the tradition of the baroque sonatas, each piece includes a fast movement and a slow movement. The faster movements, which recall Bach, provide intricate rhythms and counterpoint. In comparison the slower movements drift along offering ethereal moments and respite from the quick tempo flights of fancy.  Just when a listener sinks into revelry, the companion movement awakens them.

I listened closely for Andalusian or other Spanish influences, perhaps in the rhythm or overarching melodies. I found Spanish flavors in the pastoralas, especially on track 17, but I’m no expert on early Spanish music. However, I would love to see de Nebra garner more recognition and I hope Perianes’ recording of these luscious piano sonatas get the word out.

I recall reading an article once about how Vivaldi’s compositions wallowed in obscurity until the early 20th century when the Italian composer’s works were revisited and revived. Now, even people who don’t listen to classical music recognize Vivaldi’s pieces. JS Bach’s piano compositions nearly faded into obscurity until the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould resurrected them in the 1950s and today Bach’s name is synonymous with early and classical music. Will Blasco de Nebra be the Bach of the 21st century? Only time will tell. But at least Blasco's out of the closet and his music liberated from the dusty archives.

Information on Vivaldi’s 20th century rediscovery:

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