no real shortage of Frescobaldi keyboard recordings around, but
with new research and a recently completed edition which has sourced
previously hard to access original manuscripts each new recorded
release is likely to shine light on fresh aspects of performance
or interpretation. Luca Gugliemi’s programme here explores the
free stylus fantasticus
in which toccatas are allowed
to take flight, resisting “any form of motivic, harmonic or metrical
tyranny”, and the development of variation in the partitas, suites,
dances and capriccios.
Technical aspects of the music are outlined in Etienne Darbellay’s booklet notes, but in a way which is accessible and useful to the lay reader. The programme is divided into two halves, with the first nine tracks played on harpsichord, the remaining eight on organ. Both instruments are beautifully recorded, with the harpsichord being set in a particularly attractive acoustic which allows for close and detailed sonorities to ring through without any sense of tiring clatter. The organ is in a different location which is a fair bit drier, but entirely appropriate for the relatively intimate scale of the instrument – one from 1750 by G.F. Landesio. One can often find such programmes mixed up to create contrast, but in this case a clear division is the correct choice.
With impeccable logic, the first track is a fine performance of the Aria detta la frescobalda
, the earliest known set of variations on an original theme. The programming has been well considered in the mixing of freer toccata works with the more rhythmic pieces such as the Partite sopra l’Aria di Follia
, which provides as clear an insight as any to the range of variations Frescobaldi was able to generate over relatively simple material. Tuning is not mentioned in the booklet, but there are some delicious chromatic scrunches both from the harpsichord and the organ. The final harpsichord Passachagli
has some breath-taking moments in this regard, ending in G minor where the rest of the piece is in B flat. The very title of the Recercar Cromatico post il Credo
promises tonal free radicals as part of its DNA, and the results are indeed a feast for those who relish the side effects of mean-temperament.
Of the organ pieces, the Toccata IV Per l’organo da sonarsi alla levatione
is pointed out in the booklet as being “one of the most beautiful compositions of the entire seventeenth century”. Giugliemi’s sustained performance is indeed captivating, and the stresses and moments of release generate their own quiet narrative power. After such a powerful meditation, the light joys of the Canzona IV
which follows is a delightful contrast.
Without going into too much detail, this is the kind of recording which works on the level of intellectual and historical enquiry, as well as being a highly enjoyable listen. There is always an exploratory feel to Frescobaldi’s keyboard music, and Luca Gugliemi walks the line between rhythmic freedom and adherence to the text with skilful aplomb. His ornamentation is also appropriately restrained. If you fancy a slice of long-lost Italy and a spell lingering on the bridge between Renaissance and Baroque then this is a very good place to stop and stare.