Blasco de Nebra Sonatas and Pastorela
You may well imagine that Manuel Blasco de Nebra, organist of Seville Cathedral at the time of his death in 1784 at the age of only 34, was one of those Spanish keyboard composers who fell under the influence of Domenico Scarlatti without demonstrating his unique creative spark. Ultimately you would be right, I suppose. But glib dismissals are not the stuff of Gramophone readers, so it is to be hoped that curiosity will lead more than a few towards this selection from Nebra’s small surviving output (only 30 works), which has enough pleasing and quirky personality of its own to leave you both wondering why it is still so little known and regretting that more of it does not survive.
Blasco de Nebra’s compositions fall into two basic types: sonatas consisting of two movements, the first slow, rangy and often chromatically searching, the second fast and finger-testing; and three-movement pastorelas in which the highly original central movements, themselves called pastorelas, are full of unexpected rhythmic games. Scarlatti’s stylistic influence is unmistakable in the later man’s melodic cut, harmonic language and general keyboard know-how, as well as his penchant for worrying away at some little melodic hook – though in his case with a greater tendency to release the resulting tension into a longer, more winding theme. It is perhaps in the more relaxed atmosphere which he thus creates that Blasco de Nebra differs most from Scarlatti; his, after all, is music of a later age, and his vivid virtuosity and piquant harmonies seem to lead not to the Italian’s compelling nerviness but to a world altogether more sunny and comfortably benign.
Carole Cerasi plays these charming works with obvious affection and understanding, triumphantly justifying their revival on two 18th-century instruments from the Finchcocks Collection: a strong-boned Portuguese harpsichord and a gentle Austrian fortepiano. Both instruments have real presence and character, as does Cerasi’s playing, which is as crisp and well thought-out as ever, and dashingly virtuosic in those frantic finales. New recordings from this musician are always worth waiting for; let us hope we will hear her before too long in more mainstream harpsichord repertoire.