Exactly one month ago today, Brilliant Classics released a two-CD album of the 88 sonatas that Domenico Cimarosa wrote for solo keyboard. These days Cimarosa’s name is associated with exactly one composition, his two-act comic opera Il matrimonia segreto (the secret marriage), first performed in February of 1792. This is the only one of the 99 operas that he composed during his lifetime, along with about 50 sacred works, 30 vocal chamber compositions, and a variety of instrumental works.
The reader can probably guess that each of these sonatas must be relatively short, if all of them fit onto two CDs. Like the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, each is a single-movement composition. All are in a binary form, played without repeats. (The booklet notes by Lorenzo Ancillotti asserts that there are no repeat signs in the manuscripts. I shall leave the interpretation of that observation to those far more studied than I in the history of keyboard performance.) The longest track is just shy (by two seconds) of five minutes duration. The shortest is 34 seconds. There are 45 sonatas on the first CD and 43 on the second.
The performer on this album is David Boldrini. He plays two instruments, both fortepianos. (Ancillotti observes that six of the manuscripts are in a separate collection and listed as harpsichord sonatas.) One of the instruments was made by Johann Schantz in Vienna in 1799, probably less than two years before Cimarosa’s death in Venice. The other is listed only as a copy of a model by Anton Walter, and no date for that model is given. (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played an instrument made by Walter.) Several of the sonatas are performed with significant changes in sonority. These may have required the use of hand stops that were included in Walter’s designs.
The sonatas are not performed in their order of appearance in the manuscript collections. Ancillotti suggests that it would be appropriate to play them in sets of three, following the fast-slow-fast structure of a three-movement sonata. This is as good a suggestion as any. However, one quickly realizes that 88 is not divisible by three. Thus, while the six sonatas supposedly written for harpsichord might be arranged as two sets of three, the tempo markings do not work out if they are numbers 83 through 88; and, among those numbered 1 through 6, the last two have no tempo marking.
My personal preference sides with Scott Ross’ decision to record the 555 sonatas of Scarlatti in the order of the numbers assigned by Ralph Kirkpatrick, simply because it makes it easy to find a specific sonata. On the other hand, while I appreciate that Brilliant Classics would have had to print a longer booklet, I really wish that each of the Cimarosa sonatas had been identified by key as well as by a number from 1 to 88. The idea that specific keys were associated with specific Affects was a thing of the past by the late eighteenth century, when Cimarosa composed these sonatas; but there are often ways in which different keys are associated with different tropes, simply on the basis of how they fit under the hand.
However, while there are several reasons to quibble about this new release, there is no arguing with the fresh sounds that Boldrini brings to the performance of each of the sonatas. Under his hands there is no reason to worry about whether or not any individual sonata is part of some larger architecture. Boldrini endows each with its own characteristic identity. As a result, these are CDs for which “shuffle mode” listening is likely to be just as enjoyable as playing the tracks in the proper order!