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Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (c.1545 - 1607)
Complete Keyboard Music
Track listing below review
Matteo Messori (harpsichord, spinet, organ)
rec. 2011, Santuario di Santa Maria di Valverde, Marano di Valpolicella (Verona); Basilica di San Martino Maggiore, Bologna, Italy. DDD

Luzzasco Luzzaschi is a key figure in music history. He lived and worked at the time that the prima prattica which was dominated by polyphony made way for the seconda prattica with its emphasis on expression of emotions through a close connection between text and music.

Luzzaschi was admired for his madrigals most of which are written in the 'old style', but some of them were arranged for one to three voices and basso continuo. The reason for this was the presence of three ladies at the court of Ferrara where Luzzaschi worked, who were highly-skilled singers. They were known as the Concerto delle donne (or delle Dame) whose singing caused great astonishment and excitement. It is telling that Girolamo Frescobaldi, the most prominent exponent of the seconda prattica in keyboard music, considered Luzzaschi as a model. He was one of his pupils.

Today Luzzaschi is almost exclusively known as a composer of madrigals but he was educated as a keyboard player and considered one of the best organists of his time. The fact that the present disc is the first ever recording of his keyboard works attests to the neglect of Luzzaschi's output in this genre. It is known that he published four collections of keyboard music, but only the second book of ricercari has been preserved. That is highly regrettable considering the quality of what has come down to us.

The ricercar was one of the main forms of keyboard music. It existed in two forms, the imitative and the non-imitative. Luzzaschi's ricercares belong to the former category: they comprise a sequence of fugues and each section is built on some contrasting themes. There are twelve ricercares, each of them in a different mode. Every mode is connected to a specific kind of affetto. The complex counterpoint of these ricercares explains why Carlo Gesualdo also greatly admired Luzzaschi as he considered him a champion of the 'old style'. The collection was published in an open score, meaning that every voice is assigned a separate stave. In his liner-notes Matteo Messori points to the fact that Angelo Gardano, the Venetian publisher of Luzzaschi's keyboard collection, had printed before a collection of madrigals by Cipriano de Rore, also in an open keyboard score, without the texts. He suggests that Luzzaschi, who was Rore's pupil, may have been involved in the publication of this edition.

It also bears witness to the close connection between vocal and keyboard music. These Rore madrigals without texts were undoubtedly intended for keyboard performance. Composers such as Andrea Gabrieli wrote ricercares on themes from vocal music, for instance madrigals. However, even without such themes ricercares often have a vocal character, and the present disc shows that there is a close connection between Luzzaschi's madrigals and his keyboard works.

In the booklet Messori discusses some aspects of performance practice. One issue is especially interesting: he quotes an author from 1640 who stated that Luzzaschi "soberly played the most refined subtleties of his counterpoint in an intellectual manner, without any prettiness". This remark especially regards the use of ornaments, in particular to fill in the intervals. Apparently the clarity of the contrapuntal discourse was more important to Luzzaschi than the addition of virtuosic trills and other embellishments.

This explains why there are few of them in Messori's performance. Trills are mainly played at cadences where they are probably written out. He plays these pieces on three different harpsichords, a spinet (only in the last piece) and an organ. It is notable that the three harpsichords are all copies of historical Italian instruments but produce a quite different sound. That makes this recording all the more interesting. The organ is a splendid historical instrument which is highly appropriate for this repertoire.

The collection of 1578 is the heart of this disc, but the programme is extended by some pieces which Girolamo Diruta included in his treatise on playing the organ, Il Transilvano. The two pieces on La Spagna - a then popular bassadanza tune - and the plainsong Vesper hymn Ave maris stella respectively are from the Vatican library where they are attributed to Luzzaschi. The Canzona which closes the programme is Messori's transcription of an ensemble piece included in a collection of music by various composers from 1608.

The reader will understand that this disc is a highly important production. Luzzaschi was a significant composer in music history, one of the most brilliant keyboard players of his time, admired and influential. That is reason enough to investigate this disc. Moreover, the music is highly compelling, Matteo Messori delivers brilliant and captivating performances on splendid instruments. He is also the writer of the very informative liner-notes in which this repertoire and its composer are put into historical perspective.

There are plenty of reasons to label this disc Recording of the Month.

Johan van Veen

Track listing
Toccata del quarto tono [3:06]
[Il Secondo Libro de Ricercari a quattro voci, 1578]
Ricercar primo (dell'undecimo tuono) [4:28]
Ricercar secondo (del duodecimo tuono) [3:47]
Ricercar terzo (del primo tuono) [4:44]
Ricercar quarto (del secondo tuono) [4:40]
Ricercar quinto (del terzo tuono) [6:11]
Ricercar sesto (del quarto tuono) [6:01]
Ricercar settimo (del quinto tuono) [3:59]
Ricercar otavo (del sesto tuono) [5:08]
Ricercar nono (del settimo tuono) [4:03]
Ricercar decimo (dell'ottavo tuono) [4:19]
Ricercar undecimo (del nono tuono) [4:19]
Ricercar duodecimo (del decimo tuono) [5:54]
Ricercare del primo tuono a 4 [1:45]
Ricercare del secondo tuono a 4 [2:03]
(Canto ferno) a 4 (sopra la Spagna) [2:10]
(Canto fermo) a quattro sopra Ave maris stella (attr) [2:40]
Canzona [2:34]



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