Della Ciaia: Opera Omnia per Tastiera

Mara Fanelli harpsichord, Olimpio Medori organ
159:13 (3 CDs in card wallet)
Tactus TC 670480

Della Ciaia (1671-1755) was a Pisan nobleman who spent sixteen years with the Tuscan fleet, whiling away his time with composition, before moving to Rome and eventually back to Pisa, where he became a priest. He helped design and paid for a famous five-keyboard organ in the church of the Knights of St. Stephen (of which he was a member) in his home city. His Opera Quarta for keyboard, probably published in 1727, contains six sonatas for harpsichord, 12 short Saggi  for organ in each of the modes, six ricercars and an organ mass (Kyrie and Gloria only). A Christmas pastorale was later added to a copy of the print now in Berlin. All are included on these three discs; none of it can be called great music but it represents a somewhat quixotic individual take on the keyboard idioms of his time and getting it all on disk was clearly a labour of love for these two performers.

The six sonatas are played on two CDs by Mara Fanelli on a Taskin harpsichord copy by Keith Hill. All are in four movements: a rhapsodic toccata, a canzona based on imitative writing and two contrasting tempi. There is a lot of repetition of figuration, phrases and even individual notes; the occasional bizarre twist does not altogether relieve the tedium, though Fanelli gives an accurate account. The organ music is played by Olimpio Medori on the 1775 Pietro Agati organ in the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta in Pistoia, which proves a very appropriate instrument. The saggi  and ricercari  are relatively short pieces which show a more disciplined side of Della Ciaia and are effectively registered by Medori. The organ mass is actually an arrangement of parts of the composer’s own setting for four voices, based on the plainchant Missa Cunctipotens, with the addition of an introductory toccata. The alternatim plainchant, sung by soloist Paolo Fanciullaci, is accompanied on organ, using accompaniments taken from an early eighteenth-century Roman manuscript. It is a useful example of how such alternatim masses would have been performed at this period. The Pastorale is an extended sectional piece of nearly 14 minutes, with typical bagpipe imitation as well as special bird effects. There are very comprehensive booklet notes, though track timings are not given. A worthwhile project shining light into a forgotten corner of the repertory.
Noel O’Regan

Noel O’Regan