> CAVAZZONI etc organ music Vartolo K617039 [CH]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Sergio Vartolo (organ)
Marcantonio CAVAZZONI (c.1490-c.1570)

Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)

Andrea GABRIELI (1510-1586)

Fantasia allegra, Ricercare arioso
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612)

Canzon detta la Spiritata
Giovanni Maria TRABACI (1575-1647)

Canzona francesa prima, Canzona francesa quarta, Durezze e ligature, Ricercare del Sesto Tono Cromatico, Ricercare dell’Ottavo Tono sopra Ruggiero
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)

Fantasia prima, sopra un soggetto, Ricercare quarto, sopra mi, re, fa, mi
Giovanni Paolo COLONNA (1637-1695)

Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710)

Sergio Vartolo (organ)
Recorded on the Dallam organ of Lanvellec, Brittany (France), 7-9 Sep. 1993
K617 K617039 [67.02]


Experience Classicsonline

Not since the halcyon days of the Supraphon LP have I seen such lovely translations. Of Marcantonio Cavazzoni’s work we read, for example, that "It is without any doubt question of the composition for keyboard to the most ancient which came down to us endowed with a function purely instrumental and abstract". With reference to the original French I can now reveal that this means "It is without any doubt the earliest keyboard composition, with a purely instrumental and abstract function, to have come down to us". A rather tendentious statement since one would have to check out the dates of a number of early English dance movements, in so far as they are known, but it may be true that Cavazzoni’s book of Ricercare contains the oldest purely keyboard compositions we have from a known composer.

Then, of Giovanni Gabrieli, there is still better to come: "The posterity will therefore render homage to one who will make the history of the European music become baroque language instead of recognition. Isn’t it with Giovanni Gabrieli, that Heinrich Schütz will learn profession".

The curious thing is that, while the notes remain anonymous (by Vartolo himself?), the translations emanate from a genuinely English-sounding name, one Guy Strudwick. However, I venture to suggest that he pronounces his name "Ghee Stroodveek" and that his family have been resident in France for at least three generations. And, in case you’re wondering about that word "recognition", it is the translation offered by the hapless Monsieur Stroodveek’s dictionary as, somewhat bleary-eyed from his heavy workload (for I do not doubt that his services are sought far and wide), he endeavoured to find out how his distant cousins over the Manche say "Renaissance". Ah well, "reconnaissance" was nearly the same. Come back, pink emu, all is forgiven!

With or without Monsieur Stroodveek, the notes have some harsh admonitions for all of us. There’s Claudio Merulo, for example, "that we will not mistake for Tarquinio Merula". Perish the thought! If I caught any of my young nephews or nieces doing a thing like that they’d be for the high jump! And then there’s Andrea Gabrieli, "that nobody would mingle with his nephew Giovanni". Well, in these times when clonation is a real possibility, I wouldn’t be so sure of that. A brother’s leg, a cousin’s eye, an aunt’s nipple and Bob’s your cloned uncle before you can say Jack Robinson.

All this takes space that might have been dedicated to telling us more about what we’re actually hearing. To call the Merulo piece "Toccata" when Ricordi have published three volumes of them is not very helpful. It turns out to be the second of the 1598 collection (Ricordi Volume I), and I can see why Vartolo might not be so enthusiastic at the idea of someone looking it up and following it through because Merulo’s own mother wouldn’t have recognised it (or, worse still, have mistaken it for Tarquinio Merula). These early organ toccatas call for a certain amount of improvisatory freedom, but not to the extent that Merulo is made to seem a complete nit-wit to have written sometimes quavers, sometimes semi-quavers, sometimes demi-semi-quavers, if nobody was expected to take any notice. They didn’t write bar-lines in those days, but they had a "tactus" or basic beat, which rolled on inexorably, and all the tempi of the piece were related to it. Just listen to the start of this Merulo . If this has any sense for you, then stop reading and buy the record, obviously I’m the one that’s out of step. And then, although the Dallam organ is not so very much later than Merulo’s time, I question whether the unrelieved loudness with which this toccata is registered corresponds to anything Merulo’s Venice would have recognised, the more so since it is recorded close up and the Lanvellec Church is obviously small with a short reverberation period, rather different from St. Mark’s in Venice. Merulo’s toccatas are the aural equivalent of his Venetian contemporary the painter Tintoretto, where the basic dark and mysterious colours (Merulo’s long-held chords) are flecked with flashes of light (the semi-quavers). In the right place and in the right hands they can have an awesome power, but you would not think so from this horrible noise.

Not everything is that bad, but Vartolo must think this is terrible music that can’t speak for itself without the intervention of his genius. Hear him start Trabaci’s Ricercare on "Ruggiero", with each phrase rhythmically man-handled . And as for the way he mauls the start of the 4th Canzona francesa…. Is there any reason why this music should not be allowed to build up its own natural rhythmic pulsation? Well, in the case of Trabaci I can think of one very good reason the other way. In his introduction to the printed edition, Trabaci described the pieces as to be played on "qualsivoglia strumento" (whatever instrument you wish), and in fact they are not written on a two-stave organ score, they are written as a four-stave score; you can score-read them on a single keyboard instrument or you can call in your friends and play them on a quartet of stringed (or other) instruments as you wish. And in the latter case, the sort of rhythmic manipulation Vartolo goes in for was unthinkable and remained so for instrumental groups until the 20th Century dawned and they had a Stokowsky or a Mengelberg to conduct them through it. So a straightforward rhythmic pulse must have been on the menu, even in early 17th Century Naples. And to return to the "Ruggiero" piece, has it not crossed Vartolo’s mind that such liberal use of the 4’ stop on its own is monotonous, and can he produce evidence that organists of the day did use 4’ and 2’ stops without the 8’ base, if not as a very exceptional effect?

Now, to be fair, as the music moves forward in time Vartolo treats it less eccentrically, so I will give as my last example the Pasquini piece that closes the CD and which shows both him and the organ in its most attractive light . But, apart from the good, clean sound, I can only report that this disc does a thorough disservice to some beautiful music and should be avoided at all costs. If you are among "those who seek in the Brittany for more than reducer regionalistic cliches", as Monsieur Stroodveek puts it, then make sure Vartolo isn’t playing the organ when you go there.

Christopher Howell


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