Michelangelo Rossi is mainly known for the keyboard toccatas, which
are recorded here, but in his own time he was first and foremost
famous as a violinist. He was nicknamed ''Michel Angelo del
violino'. Strangely enough none of Rossi’s violin music has
been found. His only extant works are operas, madrigals and
a collection of toccatas and correntes for harpsichord.
He was born in Genoa, but the largest part of his life he worked in
Rome; he probably settled there in 1622, but there is a gap
in his biography about the years 1638 to 1649. The 'Toccate
e Correnti d'Intavolatura d'organo e cimbalo' was first printed
in Rome in 1657, but research has proven that the copper engraving
of these pieces took place in the 1630s. That was at the same
time Frescobaldi published his collections of toccatas. It is
debatable as to the extent that Rossi was influenced by Frescobaldi's
toccatas or whether they expressed his own developmental path
in the genre. It is interesting to note that Rossi's toccatas
never disappeared into oblivion. As late as 1739 the German
theorist Johann Mattheson mentioned them in 'Der vollkommene
Kapellmeister', calling Rossi a "diligent visionary".
Some pieces from the collection were published in the late 19th
In Frescobaldi's collections of toccatas the composer laid down the
main principles of this genre for its performers. One of these
is that toccatas consist of contrasting sections which should
be marked off from each other by variation in tempo and through
articulation. Michelangelo Rossi's toccatas are not different
from Frescobaldi's in structure, and therefore Frescobaldi's
notes are relevant for their interpretation as well. From this
perspective Sergio Vartolo's interpretation is disappointing.
In general the tempi are rather slow: most toccatas take twice
as much time as in other recordings. As a result there is often
a lack of contrast between the various sections of the toccatas.
The slow tempi also mean that many runs sound unnatural, that
there is hardly a difference between arpeggios and runs, and
there is a lack of differentiation between notes. Often chord
sequences sound stiff and lack fluency. The virtuosic and capricious
character of the toccata seems too often neglected here. And
the general pauses - for instance in the Toccata VII, the most
famous piece of this set - are too predictable.
The collection also contains a number of Correnti - another form Frescobaldi
used and published. These are pretty short, but here again they
last longer than elsewhere, due to the slow tempi. As a result
they are hardly recognisable as dances.
Vartolo uses two instruments: the toccatas and some of the correnti
are played on an Italian harpsichord with one manual and two
unison stops. It is a copy of a late-16th century instrument.
Some correnti are performed on a spinet. "The tuning of
the instruments is strictly meantone, with the black notes made
into sharps or flats according to necessity", Sergio Vartolo
writes in the booklet.
This booklet also contains detailed comment by Vartolo on "performing
details" even with reference to places in facsimile editions.
This is rather surprising in a Naxos recording whose booklets
usually only give information which is absolutely necessary.
It seems to me that comments like Vartolo's are mainly of interest
for colleagues and musicologists, but not for the ‘run of the
mill’ listener. They would have been better served by some general
information about the pieces recorded here.
Not only am I disappointed by the interpretation, the recording quality
also gives reason for criticism. There are some ugly noises, like
a cracking floor and Vartolo taking his hands off the keyboard.
There is hardly any break between the toccatas and between the
correnti, which I find irritating. The microphones have been placed
a little too close to the instruments as well, which further contributes
to the general impression that the music lacks coherence and unity.
Johan van Veen