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
Johan van Veen