Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Keyboard Works - Volume 1
Capriccio ‘Or che noi rimena’* [4:32]
Partite sopra l’Aria della Romanesca ** [12:40]
Toccata decima ** [4:49]
Toccata undecima ** [6:00]
Toccata ottava ** [4:29]
Cento partite sopra passacagli ** [9:40]
Toccata nona ** [5:52]
Toccata prima ** [5:33]
Canzona quarta *** [3:30]
Toccata Prima *** [3:56]
Toccata duodecima** [5:04]
Ancidetemi pur d’Archadelt passaggiato*** [6:25]
Works taken from * il primo libro di Capricci, Ricercari e Canzoni (1624); ** Il primo libro di Toccate e Partite ... (1615/16, 1637); *** Il secondo libro di toccate, canzoni... (1627)
Richard Lester (Boni harpsichord, 1619)
rec. – no details given. (P) and (C) 2009. DDD.
NIMBUS NI5850 [72:29]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Keyboard Works - Volume 3 - Harpsichord and Virginals
Toccata seconda [4:33]
Capriccio fatto sopra la Cucchu [5:45]
Toccata quarta [4:30]
Balletto primo – Corrente del Balletto - Passacagli [2:28]
Aria detta Balletto [7:08]
Balletto secondo – Corrente del Balletto [1:39]
Toccata undecima [5:19]
Canzona prima [3:51]
Toccata decima [4:35]
Canzona prima [1:51]
Capriccio di Durezze [2:48]
Capriccio sopra l’aria di Ruggiero* [6:22]
Recercar terzo* [4:28]
Capriccio Fra Jacopino sopra l’aria di Ruggiero** [4:02]
Balletto terzo – Corrente del Balletto – Passacagli^ [3:21]
Capricco sopra la Bassa Fiamenga* [5:35]
Correntes 1-4^ [4:21]
Aria detta la Frescobalda** [4:43]
Works taken from il primo libro di Toccate e Partite (1615/16, 1637); il secondo libro di Toccate e Canzone (1627 and 1637) and il primo libro di capricci (1624)
Richard Lester (on original harpsichords and virginals made between 1540 and 1619)
All works played on Boni harpsichord (c.1619) except *Italian harpsichord (c.1590); **Siculus virginals (1540) and ^Vicentius Pratensis virginals (c.1600)
rec. Fenton House, London, no date given. (P) and (C) 2011. DDD.
Issued under licence from Privilège Accord.
NIMBUS NI5870 [77:29]
Having completed his recordings of the keyboard works of Domenico Scarlatti, Richard Lester has turned his attention to Frescobaldi. His video which accompanies the series can be viewed at: Nimbus can also supply it on DVD.
Gary Higginson welcomed Volume 2, from the first and second books of toccatas, in July 2010 (NI5861) – here – but we seem to have missed out on Volume 1, so I listened to that courtesy of the Naxos Music Library and decided to request a review copy on the strength of what I heard. I also listened to and greatly enjoyed Volume 2 at the Naxos Music Library. GH’s review says it all, apart for one small typo which has crept in (‘Bonci’ for ‘Boni’.)
Volume 1 offers a varied and attractive programme, chiefly from the First Book of Toccatas (49 minutes of the total 72:29), played on a 1619 Boni harpsichord. The majority of the music on Volume 3, mostly of shorter pieces than those on Volume 1, is also performed on this remarkable instrument, though, for greater variety, an earlier Italian harpsichord and two virginals, dating from 1540 and 1600 are employed for the later tracks. More about the instruments later.
Part of the attractiveness of these two discs stems from Lester’s study of and employment of contemporary fingering techniques and of period ornamentation. Much of the music looks like the work of a dull dog as it stands on the printed page but not when you hear it played. The letter killeth but the spirit which Lester imparts giveth life.
Above all, Lester plays the music as if it has value for its own sake and not just as an historical document. Composers such as Praetorius and Buxtehude, who used to be thought of as mere John the Baptists heralding the arrival of J.S. Bach, have now been established as of value in their own rights and I’m pleased to see that this Nimbus series is doing the same for Frescobaldi. This is not earth-shattering music – the virtuosity of one age can easily be taken for granted in the light of subsequent history and Lester makes Frescobaldi sound (too?) easy. In fact, the Boni harpsichord can’t be at all easy to play, for reasons explained below – but it and the music are well worth hearing.
The harpsichord employed throughout Volume 1 and for most of Volume 3 was made by Giovanni Battista Boni in around 1619. It’s tuned not to modern temperament but to mean tone and is designed to avoid the compromises which a conventional keyboard creates – G-sharp, for example, is not the same note as A-flat. Though generations of keyboard players have come to think so, string players with absolute pitch often find that the compromise entailed sounds sour: they would certainly think so if some of the music on these CDs were played on a modern grand: the notes offer some instances.
On the Boni instrument the accidentals are provided via split keys, with the front half of the key producing the more commonly employed note and the rear the less common. The two lowest naturals are also split in this way, as can be seen from the photograph included in both booklets. It sounds like a nightmare to play but, as I say, Lester makes light work of it.
The other instruments on Volume 3 add greater variety, with the virginals creating much smaller-scale and more intimate music. They are described in the booklets, both of which also contain a wealth of information from Richard Lester himself, to supplement the video referred to above.
The recording is close but not unduly so. Harpsichord music makes ideal listening in the car – with little variation in volume possible, once you set the level to be above the road noise, there’s no need for further adjustment. I played Volume 1 on a 55-minute journey and it’s a measure of my enjoyment that I sat outside my destination and refused to get out of the car until it had finished playing.
Where next? The quality of Volumes 1-3 makes me look forward to the projected fourth volume – organ works from il secondo libro di toccate, Fiori Musicali and the Chigi manuscript. Then, too, there is another continuing series of Frescobaldi’s music, emanating from Brilliant Classics at budget price. I recently recommended a CD of organ music from his Fiori Musicali from this series – see review. I thought that disc mainly of scholarly interest, but Johan van Veen was more impressed – see review. In any case, Brilliant Classics are casting their net wider than the keyboard music: JV’s review also contains two cantus firmus Masses on Volume 3. There’s also a highly recommended selection of his keyboard music on Naxos (8.570717: Recording of the Month – see reviews here and here.) If that selection leads you to these Nimbus recordings, so much the better.
For the neglected keyboard music of Frescobaldi’s older English contemporary William Byrd, there’s an excellent complete set from Davitt Moroney on Hyperion (CDS44461-7, 7 CDs at a special price) or, if that looks too daunting, there’s a single-CD distillation (CDA66558 – last few remaining on CD, but also available as a download in mp3 or lossless).
Brian Wilson
These recordings bring the music to glorious life.