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CD: Smithsonian Chamber Music Society

Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Libro Quatro of 1656
Six Toccatas [19:31]
Six Ricercars [22:55] 
Six Capriccios [25:24]
Suite I in E minor [10:04]
Suite II in A major [6:40]
Suite III in G minor [9:40]
Suite IV in A minor [8:53]
Suite V in D major [7:57]
Suite VI in C major [11:36]
Webb Wiggins (harpsichord, organ)
rec. 28-31 May 2002, Ayrshire Farm, Upperville, Virginia (Suites - harpsichord) and 8-12 July 2002, Fairchild Chapel, Oberlin College, Ohio (Organ)
FRIENDS OF MUSIC FOM 10-027.28 [67:50 + 55:22] 

Experience Classicsonline

Webb Wiggins has been a member of the Smithsonian Chamber Players since 1985, has performed and recorded with many others including Chatham Baroque, and he is associate professor of harpsichord at the Oberlin College Conservatory. We are told that Wiggins has a special affinity for and long association with the works of Froberger, whose music he performs here on a 1995 harpsichord by Earl Russell and Mark Adler based on a Parisian 17th century model, and the Fairchild Chapel (Oberlin) organ built by John Brombaugh, an instrument which is modelled on early 17th century German examples. The stated temperament used is ‘quarter-comma meantone’, on which subject I’m not about to enter any kind of discussion, but which in any case gives the harmonies and chromatic lines in remote keys a particular pungency, and adds to the authentic period feel of these recordings.
Froberger is one of those eclectic figures who gathered influences from all over Europe. He travelled widely and studied with Frescobaldi in Rome, as well as turning up in Dresden Brussels, Paris, London and other places. His career was largely taken up with duties as court organist in the imperial court in Vienna, and the Libro quarto of 1656 is dedicated to the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand III. His Suites incorporate French inspired dances, and the Toccatas have Italianate origins, the more old-fashioned ricercare being derived from imitative motets. Wiggins uses the organ to take up some of these more ancient sounding scores, mixing things up a little more with the capriccios as “pieces [which] can most easily be transferred between organ and harpsichord.”
The musical result is very satisfying in this most vibrant of recordings. The harpsichord sound in particular is rich a vibrant, leaping out of your speakers with great verve but somehow avoiding the dry earache effect such detailed presence can give. I think the quality of the instrument used is the defining factor in this case, and I have nothing but compliments for the production values on these recordings. The organ is a little more distant in perspective, and with a wider range of sounds to capture this is to be expected. The shift between instruments works well enough, and the variety of sounds within the programme for each disc is very much to be welcomed. The variety within some of the organ pieces is also plentiful, with intriguing shifts such as in the Ricercar II, which enters a strange world of repressed reeds about halfway through.
There are a few recordings of Froberger’s works around, and if you prefer a larger-scale organ feel then the Aeolus label has a fine multi-volume ‘Froberger Edition’ performed by Bob van Asperen which fills the bill very nicely, and also mixes repertoire between organ and harpsichord though at the same time spreading selected programmes of pieces over the various volumes. Van Asperen’s harpsichord playing has a more legato, sustained feel in the slower movements, where Wiggins keeps a greater sense of clarity while remaining highly expressive. The Lamento in the Suite VI is particularly effective, given stately breadth and a sense ever building dolorousness. Sergio Vartalo’s recital on Naxos (see review) is very good and has a few of the 1656 pieces, but his instrument is harder sounding, and he has a tendency to imagine its sustaining power is greater that the reality would seem to prove in the slower movements. This recital nature of many such releases is a good argument for the neatly framed concept of this lovingly produced Smithsonian/Friends of Music set. If you like a feel of completeness then having the whole Libro quarto in one place will have great appeal, and the recording and performance will not disappoint.
Dominy Clements 





























































































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