Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583–1643)
Fiori Musicali: Three Organ Masses
Messa della Domenica [22:35]
Messa delli Apostoli [30:17]
Messa della Madonna [25:10]
Roberto Loreggian (organ)
Fabiano Ruin (tromba barocca)
Schola Gergoriano ‘Scriptoria’/Dom Nicola M Belinazzo
rec. Chiesa di S Tomaso Cantuariense, Verona 3-4 June 2008. DDD.

This is Volume 4 of Brilliant Classics’ Frescobaldi Edition, containing the three organ masses from the collection Fiori Musicali, or Musical Flowers. These three works are intended for use at Sunday Mass, for the Feasts of the Apostles and for Our Lady. They belong to a type common in the late medieval, renaissance and baroque periods, whereby alternate sections, sometimes referred to as versets, are chanted and played on the organ. The most famous examples are the two Masses of François Couperin, but the practice continued until it was abolished by papal decree as late as 1903. Mozart’s Epistle Sonatas are related to the Organ Mass in that they were played between the Epistle and Gospel at High Mass.

Thus, for example, the ninefold Kyrie eleison/Christe eleison at the opening of the ordinary of the Mass is distributed between choir and organ:

Other parts of the liturgy, especially the Magnificat, often received the same treatment – an equivalent of the related practice of chanting alternate verses in plainsong and polyphony. Organ Masses were designed for use in churches which possessed an organ but no choir, so it rather defeats the object of the exercise to have the skilful ‘Scriptoria’ of the Schola Gregoriano in attendance here. In fact, however, their part is very small: after their singing of the three sections of the Kyrie, they remain silent in all three Masses. The option mentioned in the notes for a singer to intone the words Sancta Maria, where Frescobaldi echoes the Litany of Our Lady of Loreto in the Messa della Madonna, is not taken. Instead, a baroque trumpet is employed for this fifth part of the Recercar con l’obbligo di cantar la quinta parte.

On the remaining tracks of each Mass, the organ alone offers further improvisations on the Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison, then voluntaries (canzone or ricercare) between the Epistle and Gospel, in place of the gradual, after the Creed, at the Elevation of the Host and after Communion. Instead of the post-communion, the Mass for Our Lady concludes with a dance, a bergamasque, and a capriccio on a piece of Frescolbaldi’s own, la Girolmeta.

Brilliant Classics have done good service in offering this recording, especially at such a very advantageous price, but I have to admit that my interest was mainly of an academic nature: you may well find other volumes in the series more attractive.

Roberto Loreggian plays a 1716 Bonatti organ in the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury in Verona. Though a little later in date than the publication of the Fiori, it is a fine period instrument, generally in good shape, though with the odd wheeze. It’s in far better condition and much easier on the ear than most Iberian organs of this period. I would have wished to know more about it, including its specification and, if possible, the registration chosen, but there is nothing at all about it in the booklet of notes. Fortunately, there is a list of the specification of the organ in Barbara Owen, The Registration of Baroque Organ Music, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997. It possesses four 8’ stops, which gives it a comparatively heavy sound for its date, though Loreggian seems to make sparing use of them. I haven’t been able to discover any details about the tuning, but sensitive ears should expect to hear unequal temperament.

One might have expected the booklet at least to mention its principal claim to fame, namely that Mozart and his father played duets on it in 1770. (Michael J Wilson, Organ Cases of Western Europe, London: Hurst, 1979.)

Loreggian plays well – in any case, I have no benchmark by which to judge him. He is joined in the ornate and grandly named recerar con l’obbligo di cantar la quinta parte senza toccarla by Fabiano Ruin on a baroque trumpet. The effect is striking, but hardly earth-shattering.

The recording is good and Noel O’Regan’s notes in the booklet – apart from their silence on the organ itself – informative and readable. They explain, for example, why Frescobaldi provides extra Kyrie versets, labelled alio modo: these were alternatives or could be played on other occasions. The statement in those notes that it was believed that “the Passion ... was symbolically re-enacted at [the] central moment of the Mass” would have got him in serious trouble for heresy with the Inquisition if he had written it in 1635. No texts are provided, but, as these amount only to Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison, that’s no great hardship.

Selections from Fiori Musicali are available on various recitals – for example, the Frescobaldi Toccata avanti la Messa which opens the Hyperion recording of Victoria’s Missa Gaudeamus, the Canzon dopo l’Epistolo and Recercar dopo il Credo on the same CD (CDA67748 – see review). The only other available complete recording, on the Tactus label, runs to two CDs (TC580690). The Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recording of Messa della Madonna (74321 935472 – see review) seems no longer to be available, but Richard Lester’s series of Frescobaldi recordings on the harpsichord for Nimbus has made a promising start (NI5850 and NI5861).

I would recommend trying to hear some of this recording before you buy; it won’t be to the taste of all organ lovers. Brilliant Classics don’t offer the facility to hear first, but you can hear one-minute samples of the three items from Fiori Musicali on that Hyperion recording - here. Thomas Wilson plays the much larger and more modern organ of Westminster Cathedral there, but, with well-chosen registration, the sound he makes is not much larger than Loreggian’s.

As Peter Wells outs it in his review of the DHM CD (above), “this disc [is] more one for the Frescobaldi devotee than the punter after some big organ noise.” Nevertheless, if you picked the new CD up as an impulse purchase – it is after all, temptingly inexpensive – you are not likely to be too disappointed.

Brian Wilson

Attractive – but likely to be of specialist appeal… see Full Review