If someone had played the first twelve measures of disc one of this two CD set for me and asked me to identify the composer, I would have answered with plenty of misplaced confidence that it was Domenico Scarlatti. To begin this recommendation like is no small praise for Johan Helmich Roman’s keyboard suites.
I recall that some ten or fifteen years ago record companies were tripping over one another in an effort to get a recording of Johan Helmich Roman’s “Nuptial Music” or “Drottningholm Music” into their catalogs, so popular had that music become. Although the catalog of his works represented on CD has grown to include some of his chamber music and concertos, the “Drottningholm Music” is still what is most commonly associated with Roman. This is to the disadvantage of a large body of worthy sinfonias, songs, chamber music, and most certainly, these remarkable keyboard suites.
At first blush, the similarity of Roman’s keyboard music to that of Domenico Scarlatti is in his use of two very distinct voices and how those voices are ornamented; most notably by the trill, which was used to elongate a tone that would otherwise live too briefly on the harpsichord or clavichord. But where Scarlatti’s sonatas employ two or three voices at a time, often with two of them in parallel and supported by an underlying harmony, Roman’s music is more sparse. He only occasionally employs more than two voices, but what he does with these bare means is fascinating, not only melodically, but also by his interesting and sometimes audacious harmonic progressions.
This is the premiere recording of this music on the modern piano. You can listen to samples on HBDirect.com. Pianist Oskar Ekberg is a marvelous pianist. Perhaps he is by a thin margin less accomplished when compared to players who are the cream of the Scarlatti performance crop. Still, his performances of these suites are superb. He obviously loves this music, and I’m confident that he will make you love it too.
In the conclusion to his excellent notes in the booklet of this CD, Ekberg writes: “Roman’s clavier suites are far too vivacious, interesting, ingenious and beautiful to be left unheard and untouched.” I am at a complete loss to sum it up any better than that. – Paul Ballyk, HBDirect.com