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Johann Jakob FROBERGER (1616–1667)
Suites for Harpsichord - Volume 1
Suite in C major, FbWV 612 [11:07]
Suite in G minor, FbWV 618 [9:59]
Suite in E flat major, FbWV 631 [10:48]
Suite in E minor, FbWV 627 [9:55]
Suite in A major, FbWV 608 [7:38]
Suite in D minor, FbWV 602 [9:32]
Suite in G major, FbWV 606 [13:09]
Suite in E minor, FbWV 642 [8:03]
Suite in C minor, FbWV 619 [10:39]
Suite in F major, FbWV 604 [8:28]
Suite in A minor, FbWV 615 [11:12]
Suite in E major, FbWV 645 [9:41]
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, England
ATHENE ATH23204 [2 CDs: 119:70]

Twelve Suites of music, each with four movements, is a lot to take at one sitting. I listened to them (one suite at a time) and then did something else. There is always a danger that a double-CD of this kind blurs into one long piece of sameness. And that would not be fair to Johann Jakob Froberger or his splendid interpreter Gilbert Rowlands.

A little information about the composer might be of interest. Johann Jakob Froberger was born in Stuttgart on 18th May 1616. He came from a musical family. His father was Kapellmeister at Stuttgart and his four brothers were also musicians. In 1637 Johann was appointed organist to the Court of Vienna but later went to Italy to study with Girolamo Frescobaldi. After much travel around Europe, he formally left the Austrian court in 1657.
Anecdotally, on a visit to London, he was robbed by highwaymen and captured by pirates. He was destitute so, for a short time, became organ-blower at Westminster Abbey. Luck followed. Froberger was introduced to King Charles II by a grateful former pupil, subsequently becoming court organist. His final years were spent in Héricourt, Eastern France, in a house provided by his patron and former pupil, the Princess Sibylla of Württemberg-Montbéliard. He died there on 6th May 1667.

The key to understanding Froberger’s music is to realise that travel really did broaden his mind. From his sojourn in Italy came the highly-developed keyboard Toccatas. Frescobaldi’s influence also resulted in several canzones, capriccios and ricerari; probably originally intended for the organ. These pieces are usually seen as pointing towards the major achievement of J. S. Bach. From Germany came Froberger’s melodic style and the use of musical ornaments. The influence of French keyboardists, such as Louis Couperin and Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, led to Froberger’s mastery and ultimate development of the “Dance” Suite.

There are at least forty suites (or partitas) in existence, some having only been rediscovered in recent years. All the Suites presented in this CD are typically in four movements but not invariably, including an Allemande, Gigue, Courante and Sarabande. They are often played in that order. The music is characterised by irregular phrase lengths, piquant harmonies and the use of “unusual” keys for his time. The Allemandes are noted for their style luthé or brisé, which was a term derived from the French lutenists of the 17th Century. Here, the strings were not plucked simultaneously but instead arpeggiated.
Two points: The opening Suite in C major, FbWV 612, begins with a heartfelt Lamento, which is one of the most moving pieces on this CD. Another digression from the typical order of movements is the unclouded Suite in G major, FbWV 606, which commences with an Air and five variations based on the German folksong Auff die Maÿerin (Take the Mistress). This is a pure delight.

As always, the liner notes are important, especially where the repertoire is unfamiliar to many listeners. These notes present a helpful biographical overview of Froberger, as well as a paragraph on each of the twelve suites. They are printed in English, German and French, highlighting the universal appeal that this CD will have. A short note on Gilbert Rowland is included, which is concise. Finally, there are several good photographs of the harpsichord, the performer and the composer himself, very much looking the part of a Cavalier, complete with Van Dyke beard and flamboyant lace collar.

Gilbert Rowland debuted at Fenton House, Hampstead during 1970 and first appeared at the Wigmore Hall in 1973. He has given many recitals and broadcasts over the years, which have established his reputation as one of the leading harpsichordists in the United Kingdom. His recordings include music by Soler, Scarlatti and Rameau. Recent years have seen cycles of keyboard works by George Frideric Handel and Johann Mattheson.

All of Froberger’s Suites are appropriately played on a two-manual French style harpsichord, made by Andrew Wooderson (2005) and that is based on an instrument designed in 1750 by Joannes Goermans (1703-1777). The sound is superb.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed these Suites. Harpsichord music is a little off my beaten track. However, the sheer variety of the music, its typically “sunny disposition”, its sometimes surprising intensity and often intimate mood make for an enjoyable and satisfying musical experience.

John France

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