Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616 - 1667)
Suites and Toccatas
Tombeau fait à Paris sur la Mort de monsieur Blancheroche in C minor (FbWV 632) [6:42]
Suite XIX in C minor (FbWV 619) [8:56]
Toccata XII in A minor (FbWV 112) [3:14]
Suite II in D minor (FbWV 602) [7:51]
Suite XII in C major (FbWV 612) [9:45]
Suite XIII in D minor (FbWV 613) [7:56]
Ricercar VII in D minor (FbWV 407) [3:09]
Toccata XIX in D minor (FbWV 119) [3:14]
Suite XIV in G minor (FbWV 614) [9:06]
Toccata XI in E minor (da sonarsi alla Levation) (FbWV 111) [3:45]
Alina Rotaru (harpsichord)
rec. Musée d'art et d'histoire, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 11-13 November 2011
CARPE DIEM CD-16290 [63:54]
The fairly young Alina Rotaru (b. 1976), Romanian but currently residing in Germany, has once again shown her total familiarity with the appropriate idiom in this her newest recording. See also her previous: J.P. Sweelinck - Fortune My Foe: Works for Harpsichord on Carpe Diem CD-16281. She has clearly confirmed that she is a major talent among contemporary harpsichord players and, thankfully, there are many. What makes this issue so special?
Before delving into the more formal analytical aspects of these performances, I would simply direct the listener to, for example, track 4, the Courante of Suite/Partita XIX in C minor. One’s attention is immediately driven to the confident, freely expressive and perfectly technically executed rendering. If this track doesn’t entice you immediately, then you should probably avoid Froberger altogether. I would also recommend tracks 8 (Gigue) and 9 (Courante) of Suite/Partita II in D minor.
Johann Jakob Froberger can be a tough stylistic nut to crack. He was probably one of the most cosmopolitan composers of his time: born in Germany, court organist in Vienna, but having traveled to Italy twice, where he knew and studied with Girolamo Frescobaldi, at least on his first visit. There were also visits to England and Belgium as well as France where he knew and became familiar with the French luténists, including Denis Gaultier and Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher. In the Netherlands he became friends with Constantijn Huygens - father of the more well known Christiaan Huygens. Some have credited him with the development of the baroque keyboard “suite.” In any event, his experience led him to fuse the basic “German” dance movement keyboard suite with the influences of Italy and, particularly, those of France. In the latter he was principally drawn to the luténists, whose style brisé (arpeggiated texture) he was able to incorporate into many of this keyboard suites or “partitas,” depending on your denominational inclination.
Accordingly, it takes an interpreter of particular ability, well versed in the notational and performance practices of the time to successfully render Froberger’s keyboard works into a satisfying amalgam of the various national styles. In this, Ms. Rotaru excels, perhaps beyond the boundaries set by some of her notable predecessors. It should be noted that the scores provide only a basic outline of how the pieces are to be played. For example, following Rotaru’s rendering of Tombeau fait à Paris sur la Mort de monsieur Blancheroche with the score - as set forth in volume 3 of the Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich collection of Froberger keyboard works, 1959 - clearly shows the difference between the bare notes on the page and the musical aggregate that should emerge. While modern editions such as Siegbert Rampe’s Johann Jacob Froberger: Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke (1993ff) (Volume IV.1, Keyboard and Organ Works from Copied Sources. Partitas and Partita Movements, Part 2 - 2003) provide much assistance and guidance in performance practice, it is ultimately up to the performer to combine these elements into a satisfying musical whole. Rotaru also demonstrates a flawless technique, but not in such a way as to draw attention to itself at the expense of the music.
There are at least two significant predecessors to Rotaru. These are Gustav Leonhardt, perhaps the “gold standard” among harpsichord players, and Siegbert Rampe, with whom Ms. Rotaru studied, and who also compiled a new catalog of Froberger’s works, utilizing FbWV [Froberger-Werkverzeichnis] numbers. Odious as comparisons may be, in setting Ms. Rotaru’s performance in juxtaposition with these two major figures she clearly emerges as an accomplished master in rendering Froberger’s oeuvre into a readily digestible and enjoyable whole.
There is one piece, one suite and a movement from a suite that all three include in their respective recordings: Leonhardt, “Johann J. Froberger, Works for Harpsichord,” DHM 88697568392 (1989), and Siegbert Rampe, “Froberger: Meditations and Fantasias,” Virgin Veritas 5099 6 02498 21) (2 CDs, 1995 and 1996). These other discs provide a basis for “comparison”: Tombeau fait à Paris sur la Mort de monsieur Blancheroche/Blancrocher. By the way, Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher (c. 1605 - 1652) (also referred to as Blancheroche) was a famous French lutenist and friend of Froberger. It appears that Froberger witnessed his sudden death: he fell down a flight of stairs- note the descending C minor scale in the Tombeau. Four major composers, including Froberger, wrote tombeaux in his memory.
In the Tombeau, Rotaru uses the sonorous lower register of her instrument to good advantage for the various pedal points and maintains the subtle tension inherent in the piece throughout. She also repeats the second section, which appears to be at variance with the score - and taken neither by Leonhardt or Rampe - but it does add a certain symmetry given the indicated repeat for the first section. Leonhardt takes a more “delicate” approach, in part reinforced by the lighter tone of his instrument, with use of subtle rubato. Rampe accentuates the douleur in the piece, with variances in the arpeggiations among the more notable features. He also inserts a small bridge passage between the end of the first section and the beginning of the repeat. Chacun à son goût.
Rotaru plays the second Suite with great freedom and finesse, as appropriate: deftly using agogic accents in the Allemande, playful in the Gigue, flowing wonderfully in the Courante and stately in the Sarabande without being ponderous. Leonhardt takes a more “reticent” approach, with rhythms somewhat more deliberate, and making quick work of the Sarabande. Rampe’s approach is similar to that of Rotaru, just expressed somewhat differently, if perhaps less elegantly.
As can be expected in such a “subjective” work as the Lamentation, apparently written to console himself after being attacked and beaten by a band of soldiers, each performer puts their own spin on the piece, with Rotaru perhaps being the most characterful and taking the least - and, I think, just the right - amount of time, Leonhardt omitting all repeats and Rampe being somewhat languorous.
For those wishing to do further comparisons, Rotaru and Rampe both play the complete Suite/Partita No. XIV in G minor, Suite/Partita No. XIX in C minor, Toccata No. II in D minor and Toccata in No. XI in E minor (da sonarsi alla Levatione).
One pedantic footnote. There is some “controversy” as to the order of dances in Froberger’s suites. In some manuscripts - only two of Froberger’s pieces were printed in his lifetime, and two of his five manuscript books for keyboard are lost - the Gigue is placed last, after the Sarabande, as done by Leonhardt and Rampe for the early Suite II, although Rampe sets it second in the other suites except Suite XIV. Rotaru places the Gigue as the second movement in this suite. To me, it makes more musical sense to place the Gigue second, with the suite ending with the Sarabande; but I guess you could make arguments either way.
Ms. Rotaru plays on a visually and aurally gorgeous Ruckers harpsichord (1632, reconstruction 1745, probably by Blanchet) at Musée d’art et d’histoire in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It has a wonderfully resonant lower register, and I cannot think of a more appropriate instrument for these works. At first, I was somewhat surprised that Rotaru would choose Tocatta XI, an Elevation toccata, presumably for presentation during the Mass, for performance on the harpsichord, as opposed to the organ, as done by Rampe. However, issues of authenticity aside, the piece comes off better as music on the harpsichord. Rampe’s somewhat extended rendition [6:22 vs. 3:45- no repeats] may influence my view, irrespective of whether that timing is necessary or appropriate for the Elevation. The Carpe Diem recording is “up close” and made at a fairly high level, but not disquietingly so.
As to the particular incarnation of these impressive recorded renderings, the CD comes packaged in a space-saving cardboard folder in which the CD slides inside the left “cover”. There are detailed notes on Froberger and on the relevant recorded pieces. These are by Wolfgang Kostujak, with whom Rotaru also studied. Production values are high.
One last note. The blurb for this CD in the Carpe Diem online catalogue states:
A subject of countless speculations, his programmatic and personal music is a creation of an exquisite and sensitive mind, masterfully crafted with enigmatic and mystical elements, and points to Froberger’s personal connections to thinkers and alchemists of his time.
In my somewhat limited research, I have yet to see any reference to such “enigmatic and mystical elements” or “connections to ... alchemists of his time” other than this blurb but if it sells more CDs, why not?
If you have any interest in Froberger or the innovations he provided to the keyboard music of his time you should audition and acquire this disc. The rewards are endless.
The rewards are endless.
see also review by Johan van Veen