Carlos de Seixas: Harpsichord Sonatas 1
Debora Halasz, harpsichord
Naxos 8.557459 TT: 70:36
Until recently, a search for keyboard music by Portugal's Carlos de
Seixas (1704-42) would turn up next to nothing: a couple of deleted items
and maybe a few sonatas in anthologies featuring others by Scarlatti or
perhaps Antonio Soler. A sense of his music would be hard to gather up,
and it would require some expense.
This CD changes all that. It also makes one wish that some Lisbon dig
would unearth more of the nearly 700 Seixas pieces for harpsichord that
were supposedly lost during Lisbon's great 1755 earthquake, a few years
after his death, especially if some of it matched the level of these
sonatas. Naxos reports plans to release those that have survived: the
liner notes mention a collection of eighty - thirteen of which appear
here, played very ably by Brazilian virtuoso Debora Halasz. At least
five more Seixas CDs should gradually be released, which is good news
indeed for baroque music fans.
Seixas was the cathedral organist at his native Coimbra from the age of
fourteen, but at sixteen he was appointed Vice Master organist in Lisbon's
Royal Chapel - the Chapel Master being none other than Domenico Scarlatti.
During Scarlatti's five years in Portugal, he taught and was said to
admire young Carlos, who eventually replaced him as Chapel Master and
harpsichord teacher at Lisbon's royal court. A Portuguese dictionary
from 1760 reports that, upon first witnessing Seixas' playing, Scarlatti
said to the youth that he ought to teach him, Scarlatti, rather than the
other way around, as the Portuguese monarch had commanded the Italian
master. Seixas died early, at 38, but was already regarded as the
highest-ranking Portuguese musician of his time. Some mutual influence
in their keyboard music seems likely, although the sonata form was
developed further by the longer-lived Scarlatti.
Seixas' works often feature a relatively simple left-hand part while the
melodic structures for the right hand are elaborated and developed through
variations. Most sonatas on this disc are in two movements, some are
in three, and a few are in a single movement; a one- to three-minute
duration is typical, two movements last less than a minute, and just one
is 13 minutes long.
The soloist displays the harpsichord's expressive variety, as well as
her own considerable talents, through a mix that, for instance, has a
graceful piece requiring a toy piano-like sound, such as the Sonata 24's
closing movement, followed immediately, and every bit as adroitly, with
something calling for an aggressive clangour - in this case, the intricate
and challenging 27th Sonata. The differentiation in tempo, touch and
articulation of Seixas' music make for a remarkably wide expressive range
that can comprise the poignant Largo to Sonata #18, which is full of
sadness or a mature resignation, and the exuberant Allegro that follows,
which is suggestive of the most youthful restlessness. This range
includes the 24th Sonata's heaven-storming opening, the brash, heroic
tonalities of Nos 19 and 44, graceful sweetness in Sonata 37, and wistful
lyricism in the Moderato of Sonata 43. This last piece inhabits a
sound-world akin to Antonio Soler's sublime Fandango, although it is
clearly nowhere as lengthy nor weighty in intent. Also worth noting is
the engaging and ambitious Sonata No. 57, for its harmonically-rich and
grandiloquent opening movement, followed by a delicate, contemplative
middle, and closing with a fast movement of unexpected extroversion.
It may be something of a fool's errand to try to sit through 71 minutes
of any solo instrument that is not 'live,' no matter how delightful each
piece; this certainly applies to baroque harpsichord music - unless one
is a die-hard keyboard head-banger or in a very special mood. Still,
the three recent Naxos releases of Buxtehude's trio sonatas show how
enjoyable well-played baroque chamber recitals in historically-informed
performances can be, and that they amply reward repeated listening.
Naxos has also been gradually releasing Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas in
piano versions that feature a different artist per CD: this will be the
first complete traversal since Scott Ross's for Erato, and has already
yielded several successes.
With this release Naxos has clearly issued the best single CD to gain
the acquaintance of Portugal's underappreciated late baroque musical
So bravo yet again!
Post script: After noticing that this recording came out three years
ago without trace of the promised volumes to come, I posted a query on
the Naxos site and even reached Klaus Heymann on the subject. After a
few months, no reply has yet to reach me from either source, although
Heymann has e-mailed me in the past (to say, on one occasion, that his
vaults hold an unissued recording of Frank Martin's delightful Harpsichord
Concerto of 1951-52). Further sales of this first volume may yet prompt
them to continue the series - unless perhaps there was some dispute with
the artist, or with Bavarian Radio? Still, I'll be keeping out a hopeful
eye for some future Seixas releases by the label.
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