> Girolamo Frescobaldi - Keyboard Music [MC]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Keyboard music

CD 1 [67:15] Fantasie Book 1 (circa. 1608) Prima Sopra un soggietto Seconda Sopra un soggietto solo Terza Sopra un soggietto solo Quarta Sopra doi soggietti * Quinta Sopra doi soggietti * Sesta Sopra doi soggietti Settima Sopra tre soggietti Ottava Sopra tre soggietti Nona Sopra tre soggietti * Decima Sopra quattro soggietti Undecima Sopra quattro soggietti Duodecima Sopra quattro soggietti
CD 2 [64:45] Ricercari [46:19] (circa. 1615 rev. circa. 1618-1642) Ricercar Primo Ricercar Secondo * Ricercar Terzo Ricercar Quarto Obligo mi, re, fa, mi Ricercar Quinto Ricercar Sesto Obligo fa, fa, sol, la, fa Ricercar Settimo Obligo sol, mi, fa, la, sol Ricercar Ottavo Obligo di non uscir mai di grado * Ricercar Nono Obligo di quattro soggetti Ricercar Decimo Obligo la, fa, la, re *
Canzoni Francesi [18:26] (circa. 1615 rev. circa. 1618-1642) Canzone I Canzone II Canzone III * Canzone IV Canzone V *
Sergio Vartolo, Harpsichord and Organ
* Harpsichord - performed on copy by B. Formentelli of the Italian harpsichord preserved at Ca' Rezzonico in Venice. Organ * - the organ of the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo, Pistoia, by Hermans, 1664, restored by Riccardo Lorenzini between 1990 and 1995.
Recorded June 2000 in Verona, Italy except * - Chiesa dello Spirito Santo, Pistoia, Italy. DDD
Super budget price
NAXOS EARLY MUSIC 8.553547-48 [2:12:00]


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It is difficult to appreciate just how popular Girolamo Frescobaldi, the Italian early baroque composer was in his day. A pop star performer of his time, in fact. According to my Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians his first performance as organist at St. Peter's, Rome attracted an audience of 30,000 people. I'm tempted to say, 'what all at once!' and 'how did they all fit in?' As a performer he was arguably the most distinguished organist of the 17th Century.

Born in Ferrara in 1583, Frescobaldi studied under the City's Cathedral organist Luzzasco Luzzaschi and gained a noble reputation as a beautiful singer as well as a virtuoso organist. After securing a post as organist in the Santa Maria Church, in Rome he settled in Antwerp, in Flanders in 1607 and then went on to secure the prestigious appointment in 1608 as organist at St. Peter's, Rome.

Owing to the poor remuneration at St. Peters, Frescobaldi took leave of absence, in 1628, in response to an invitation from the grand Duke of Tuscany to become his organist, in Florence. In 1633 Frescobaldi returned to Rome and was re-appointed as organist at St. Peter's and successfully held this position until a year before his death in 1643.

Renowned music writer David Ewen explains that Frescobaldi's contemporaries Gabrieli, Buxtehude and Sweelinck tended to write their keyboard music in the contrapuntal style of their choral works. In opposition Frescobaldi moved away from this style releasing himself to write music that truly belonged to the organ and the harpsichord and not the human voice. Notes in the CD booklet aptly describe Frescobaldi as, 'a master of counterpoint, stating his opening themes and then progressively making them quicker both rhythmically and melodically'. Frescobaldi's brilliantly innovative and progressive style of writing for the keyboard became a major development of the baroque period and his music has undoubtedly stood the test of time. Clearly Frescobaldi's long standing reputation as one of the most important composers of the keyboard is being realised as the large number of recent CD's released bear testament.

As explained in his booklet notes soloist Sergio Vartolo has personally chosen these works to be played principally on the harpsichord. He feels that contrary to common belief the organ was not the principal instrument intended by Frescobaldi and that the use of the harpsichord can be inferred from the manuscript scores. In addition Vartolo reinforces his preference for using the harpsichord with his view of the composers intention as secular works for entertainment rather than for the organ which generally favours a more liturgical context. However for what seems like sentimental rather than historical reasons Vartolo chooses to perform 3 of the Fantasie, 3 of the Ricercari and 2 of the Canzoni Francesi on the organ. This decision to use the richer palette of colour provided by the organ on 8 of the works does make an interesting contrast.

The excellent Italian soloist Sergio Vartolo studied at Bologna Conservatorio and University and teaches the harpsichord at the Conservatorio di Venezia. Vartolo has become known as a Frescobaldi specialist and this double CD set, from the ever enterprising Naxos label, achieves his completion of the complete keyboard works that Frescobaldi published in his lifetime.

The harpsichord used by Vartolo is a modern copy of a 1664 Italian original from Venice and provides a most agreeable sound, in the not too dry acoustic. For the 8 works that Vartolo has selected to use the organ, the choice of the recently restored 1664 Hermans organ of the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo, in Pistoia is strongly vindicated. The organ sound is warm and the acoustic is not too resonant. On the negative side it is not surprising that the mechanism of the instrument can be heard at times but I did not find this too annoying or intrusive. Furthermore there are a few untidy passages; particularly on CD 1, track 5, at 4:35 where there seems to be a poor edit or incorrect note.

I feel that these keyboard works, as fine as they are, are works to dip into rather than to listen to the whole of the generous 2hrs 12 minutes of playing time at one sitting. This early baroque music however does deserve to be heard by a wider audience than the mainly traditional specialist collector. Vartolo is a powerful advocate of these works for keyboard and his assured playing displays the necessary expressive poetry and drama contained in the music. The quality of both the performance and the sound are excellent and the excellence of the music rewards repeated hearings.

Michael Cookson

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