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Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643) Keyboard Music from Manuscript Sources
Toccata in F [04:35]
Capriccio fatto sopra il Cucch¨ [05:35]
Toccata in a minor [03:41]
Ricercare cromatico [02:48]
Toccata in F [05:01]
Canzona in d minor [03:18]
Corrente in A [01:07]
Toccata in C [04:21]
Capriccio in g minor [03:38]
Toccata in e minor [03:53]
Canzona in d minor [03:51]
Corrente in g minor [01:22]
Partite sopra un aria Romana detta la Manista [04:54]
Capriccio in G [03:54]
Toccata in g minor [03:57]
Corrente in G [01:00]
Fantasia in E [03:07]
Toccata (and canzona) in G [04:32]
Corrente in F [01:26]
Toccata in F [05:52]
Martha Folts (harpsichord, Jerome de Zentis, 1658)
rec. August 2007, Ploger Hall, Manchester, MI, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.570717 [73:03] 


Experience Classicsonline

There are many available recordings with keyboard music by Frescobaldi. That is understandable, as his music not only belongs to the very best of what was composed in 17th century Italy, but also had a lasting influence on the further development of keyboard music across Europe. Frescobaldi had many students from Italy and abroad, and they copied his music and spread it over the Continent. In addition their own works show the strong influence of Frescobaldi's style. Johann Jacob Froberger is the most famous example. A pretty large number of collections with Frescobaldi's music were published during his lifetime. Most recordings focus on one or more of these collections. The peculiarity of this recording is that it presents pieces which were never published and reside in museums and archives, for instance in Turin, Munich, Berlin and London.

The programme shows the different forms Frescobaldi made use of, in particular the toccata which was one of the main sources of his influence. In addition we find a dance form (corrente), canzonas and ricercares - both derived from vocal music -, 'partite' (variations on a subject) and free forms like the fantasia and the capriccio. These pieces are grouped in such a way that maximum variety is guaranteed. 

Not that there is any danger of being bored. The music in itself is good enough to prevent this, but there are two other factors which should hold the listener's attention. 

First of all, the harpsichord. This is a very special instrument, which dates from 1658 and has been in the property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which acquired it in the 1880s. Despite - or due to - attempts to restore it the harpsichord was in rather bad condition when the museum decided to sell it. When harpsichord-maker Keith Hill got the opportunity to study the instrument more carefully he was very impressed by its quality. He concluded that it was the work of a "genius musical instrument maker". On his website he describes the instrument and how he has restored it into playable condition. The result is nothing but spectacular. According to Keith Hill "every piece in the instrument is acoustically enhanced to optimize its sounding properties". And that makes this instrument unique, as this disc demonstrates. The sonority of this harpsichord is remarkable. In particular the low notes have a very strong sound. The range of colours this instrument is able to produce is something one doesn't hear very often in harpsichords. 

But an instrument alone does not make a good recording. This instrument has been used previously in a recording by Elizabeth Farr with music by Peter Philips. But it didn't make any lasting impression on me as it does here. The reason could be that this instrument isn't the most appropriate for Philips' music. But it is probably first and foremost due to the interpretation: in contrast to MusicWeb's reviewer of this recording I found it very unsatisfactory. Comparing the way the same harpsichord is used, its full qualities come much better to the fore under the hands of Martha Folds. 

She tries to realise the performing principles which Frescobaldi has laid down. These are strongly influenced by the vocal style of the time, which originated from Giulio Caccini. One of the main aspects of this performance practice is the freedom of rhythm and tempo. "Describing the 'new style', Frescobaldi states that the manner of playing must not remain subject to a beat (...), letting the tempo reflect the mood or 'Affect' of the music or text", Martha Folts writes in the booklet. Frescobaldi requires the beginnings of toccatas to be played slowly and arpeggiated, which can be compared to the crescendo a singer uses. Ornaments should also be added according to the 'Affect'. Frescobaldi's indications lead to a performance "with a kind of nonchalance which projects ease, relaxation, non-intensity, and yet a focused, intentional presence to the performance". 

This approach, "allowing the music to sound as vocally oriented as possible", shows to be very fruitful in this recording. Listening to Martha Folts' interpretation it is not difficult to understand why musicians all over Europe travelled to Rome to study with Frescobaldi and were deeply influenced by his style. Ms Folts' playing is brilliant and always captivating and expressive. Thanks to the mean-tone temperament the sometimes harsh dissonances have a maximum effect, for instance in the Toccatas in e minor (track 10) and in F (track 20) or in the Fantasia in E (track 17). 

Music, instrument and performer are a winning combination here. It has resulted in a quite spectacular recording, which should not be missed.

Johan van Veen


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