Johan van Veen
, July 2007
The place of composers in the history books and encyclopedias – and the frequency with which their compositions are performed – doesn't always depend on the quality of their output. It is often a matter of coincidence or of historical circumstance. The fate of Giovanni Benedetto Platti is a good example. Stylistically many works point in the direction of classicism, but in history books the honour of paving the way to the classical style is given to the sons of Bach and the representatives of the Mannheim School.
There is some doubt as to where and in which year Platti was born: either in 1692 or 1697, either in or near Padua or in Venice. He seems to have had several teachers, among them some of the most important masters of the Italian baroque, like Gasparini, Vivaldi and the Marcello brothers. In 1722 he entered the service of Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg, and an ardent lover of Italian music. In Würzburg he stayed until his death. It is difficult to imagine why he was willing to stay there, as it was a rather small court with few connections to the rest of Europe. Perhaps his marriage with Maria Theresia Lambrucker in 1723 had something to do with it. She was also in the service of the court as a singer, and apparently much appreciated. But perhaps he was perfectly happy at the court of Würzburg, as his employers were very fond of him. He was described as "incomparable oboist" and in 1732 he was also appointed as a singer (tenor) and second violinist. On top of that he was known for his skills as cellist and harpsichordist.
An additional factor for Platti staying in Würzburg was probably the close friendship with the Prince's brother, Count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn, who became Prince-Bishop in 1729, five years after his brother's sudden death. In the inter-regnum the musicians at court went through a rough time, as their number was heavily reduced. But the succession of Count Rudolf resulted in a restoration of musical life at the court. He was a passionate and skilled player of the cello, and collected a large number of compositions for his instrument. Platti's oeuvre contains a number of pieces with obbligato cello which perhaps were written for the Count.
The six sonatas op. 3 were published in Nuremberg in 1743 and were dedicated to Peter Philipp von Krufft, a "dilettante flautist" living in Cologne. The term 'dilettante' doesn't necessarily mean the same as it does today: 'amateur'. It is rather a person who does play or compose – sometimes at a 'professional' level – but not for a living. Italian composers like Albinoni and the Marcello brothers described themselves as 'dilettantes'. It is assumed Platti was a flautist himself, but that is not confirmed in the sources. The fact of the matter is that these sonatas are very idiomatic compositions, which show that their composer had a thorough knowledge of the possibilities of the instrument. As they are technically quite demanding the dedicatee was probably a highly skilled flautist.
More interesting are the stylistic features of these sonatas. Several elements justify their characterisation as early examples of the developing classical style. In them we discern rudiments of the sonata form, the menuet – the favourite dance of the classical period – and short solo cadenzas, which much later became standard practice. These aspects demonstrate that Platti was highly original and could have had quite an influence on the course of music history if he had been employed elsewhere. It has also been argued that Platti applied Rousseau's idea of 'naturalness' in his music well before this ideal was propagated. From this one may conclude that the neglect of Platti's works is highly unjustified.
The recording by these three artists from Norway convincingly supports this conclusion. The performances are technically assured, and the expressive and sometimes quite dramatic features of these sonatas are thoroughly exploited. One of the highlights is the largo of the Sonata No. 2, which contains vivid contrasts. These are realised with great flair and imagination. The ornamentation is also used for expressive purposes, for instance we can hear a slight vibrato which can be compared with the 'Bebung', an important effect used on the clavichord. Interestingly this very instrument is used here in the realisation of the basso continuo in Sonata No. 4. This is very uncommon in today's performance practice, where the instrument is almost exclusively used in a solo capacity. Of course this requires great sensitivity from the flautist, and Paul Wåhlberg is well up to the task. Even so the balance between the flute and the clavichord is problematic. It helps if you listen to the disc with headphones. In that case the balance is a good deal better.
The 'giga' of the Sonata No. 3 requires an effect which Platti refers to as 'tre:'. It is not quite clear what kind of effect he means, either tremolo or a trill. "Neither tremolo nor trill seemed convincing as a solution for this part of the flute sonata. We chose another solution for which there is no documentation in Quantz's works or others", Paul Wåhlberg writes in the booklet. Instead he tries to imitate an effect similar to that of organ stops such as 'Vogel-Gesang' (bird singing) or 'Kuckuck' (cuckoo) or the sound of instruments listed in the score of Leopold Mozart's 'Toy Symphony'. I can't say I find this solution very convincing either. Perhaps a tremolo would have been a better option.
As these sonatas are assumed to have been composed over a considerable period two different transverse flutes are used, copies after Denner (c1715) and Greneser (c1750) and tuned at a=390' and 415' respectively.
These sonatas by Platti fully deserve to be played on the concert platform and one can only be grateful that they have been recorded by these artists. This is not their first recording: in 1990 Bernhard Böhm recorded them on CPO. Without having compared both recordings in detail, in a random comparison of a number of tracks this recording came out on top. Paul Wåhlberg - who also has written the informative programme notes in the booklet - and his colleagues observe all repeats, which makes this disc about 10 minutes longer than the one from CPO.