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Frammenti del discorso amoroso
Marianna Henriksson (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, Kallio-Kuninkala, Järvenpää, Finland
Notes in English.

I can’t remember when a recorded harpsichord recital excited me more than this one has. It is full of playing which is passionate and disciplined to the same high degree. The emotional intensity created and sustained throughout is remarkable, the whole governed by a performative rhetoric of great power. In using the word ‘rhetoric’ here I have in mind both to the way in which late-Renaissance and early-Baroque writers increasingly wrote of music and its performance in terms ultimately derived from the rhetoric of the ancient world, and in the broader sense of rhetoric as a means of persuading one’s hearer(s) to share one’s feelings.

It is with the new emphasis on musical ‘rhetoric’ that Marianna Henriksson begins her brief (but stimulating) essay in the album-booklet, writing thus “At the turn of the 16th into the 17th century, humanists and classicists based mainly in Florence drafted new ideals for music and pewrforming arts. They were fascinated by the expressivity of ancient Greek drama, and criticized their contemporaries for unclear expression of sung words and emotions. They preferred monody, a single voice speaking-singing that would touch the listener in a way defined in the words”. One other statement in her essay clarifies, better than I can, Henriksson’s performances on this album: “The harpsichord music on this album bears the same ideals of monodic expression of contrasting emotions, albeit without lyrics. It is speech without words, emotional recitative on the keyboard. The pieces I have chosen, whether taking a freeform of toccata or repetitive forms of dances, are like love letters. They are written in the first person. Pleasure and pain become one: dissonance is a symbol of desire without which a resolution cannot exist … This is a lover’s language of longing, crying, laughing, blackmailing, losing temper, falling into exhaustion, resigning”. I find almost all of that both illuminating and sensible, but would propose one ‘amendment’, which relates to Henriksson’s comparison with love letters. No doubt there is/was a ‘rhetoric’ of love letters (do they still exist in this age of social media?). I’d suggest that comparisons with the poetry of the time and, even more so, with the theatre might be more productive.

The theatrical is central to the very essence of the baroque in all the arts. In terms of architecture think, for example, of Carlo Maderno’s façade of St. Peter’s in Rome, resembling an enormous stage set; or of a paintings like Annibale Carraci’s frescoes in the Galleria Farnese (also in Rome), especially the Triumph of Bacchus in the central panel of the ceiling – a divine drama being ‘acted out’; in sculpture there is extravagant theatricality in almost any work by Bernini (again, lots of the best examples can be found in Rome – e.g. Apollo and Daphne in the Galleria Borghese or the quite extraordinary Cornaro Family Chapel in the church of S. Maria della Vittoria, in which a sculpted audience in a ‘theatre box’ watches St. Teresa’s Ecstasy (and we watch that audience watching). Contemporaries of the composers represented on this disc would not have been surprised or puzzled to think of music and its performance in theatrical terms. Writers and theorists had often touched on the subject. So, for example, Vincenzo Galilei in his Dialogo della musica antica e moderna of 1581 “writes that composers and performers of the modern style should find inspiration for their work in the theatrical pieces. They should try to imitate the different characters played on the scene, with all their peculiarities according to the different roles. He refers in particular to the imitation of “quantity of sound”, “types of accents”, “the speed in speaking”, i.e. agogic, dynamic, phrasing and accentuation, all elements that we do not find explicitly written in baroque music”. (I don’t have immediate access to a copy of Galilei’s treatise, so I quote from a paraphrase by Anna Paradiso Laurin (herself a harpsichordist of great distinction).

Henriksson’s approach leads to some immensely vibrant performances, full of fiercely emphasised accents, and dissonances relished for their emotional intensity, as well as some intensely expressive rubato. Marianna Henriksson clearly has a formidable technique which is used here, very effectively, in the service of her vision of what this music means. For her it ‘enacts’ emotions rather than describing them. Alongside her booklet essay she quotes two passages from a book by Roland Barthes, which she refers to as ‘A Lover’s Discourse’; if, though, we turn to the original French title of the book – Fragments d’un discours amoreux (Paris, 1978) – then it is obvious that the title of this CD actually imitates the title of Barthes’ book. The first of her quotations (more readily comprehensible than the frequently-opaque Barthes often is) reads thus: “The description of the lover’s discourse has been replaced by its simulation, and to that discourse has been restored its fundamental person, the I, in order to stage an utterance, not an analysis”.

For me the highlights – the most powerfully ‘staged’ ‘utterances’ on this superb disc – are the accounts of Picchi’s ‘Toccata’ (track 1), Merula’s ‘Toccata del secondo tono’ (track 3), Storace’s ‘Ballo della battaglia’ (track 6), Rossi’s ‘Toccata settima’ (track 7) and Frescobaldi’s ‘Toccata duodecima’ (track 9). In all of these pieces, Henriksson by identifying (and identifying with) the implied ‘feeling I’, like an actor playing a number of different roles, drawing on personal experiences as well as on learned technique is able to produce emotionally powerful utterances. She is helped by the excellent recorded sound (the work of Jonte Knif) and by the evidently very fine instrument she plays, described in the CD booklet as “an Italian harpsichord after Mucciardi built by Andrea di Maio year 2010”. (‘Mucciardi’ presumably referes to the Neapolitan Ignazio Mucciardi, active in the 18th century; Andrea di Maio is a contemporary craftsman based, I believe, in Viterbo).

There is only one track on this album about which I find myself a little uneasy – the last. This is an arrangement of Gregorio Strozzi’s ‘Toccata prima per cembali et organi, con pedarole e senza’, in which we hear not harpsichord and organ, but harpsichord and electronically processed recordings of the harpsichord, courtesy of sound-designer Tuomas Novio. Unfortunately, I find the result less than gripping – there’s a huge drop in intensity after the previous ten tracks.

However, dissatisfaction with this final track, does little to qualify, in any serious way, my delight in the album as a whole. This is Henriksson’s first solo recording. I, at least, will certainly be looking out eagerly for her subsequent recordings.

From the brief biography supplied with this CD and from consultation of Ms. Henriksson’s website, I learn that she finds it “important to perform early music in various contexts, for different audiences”. She was recently, apparently, involved in a choreographed version of Monteverdi’s Vespers in Helsinki. Between 2012 and 2016 she was the harpsichordist in “the breakdance show Flying Bach, touring with the Berliner breakdance virtuoso group Flying Steps, in Europe, Japan, Russia and Chile. She has taken part in many other interdisciplinary projects too – including “arranging early music with electronic music and folk styles”. She has performed, in concert, new compositions for harpsichord by composers such as Olli Vitapenko and the German Sarah Nemtsov. She is also a serious scholar. She is, in short, an adventurous musician of wide-ranging interests – something which, indirectly, is very evident on this fine album. There are, of course, other perfectly respectable ways to play this music, but such performances rarely make the kind of impact which this disc does.

Glyn Pursglove

Giovanni PICCHI (1572-1643)
1. Toccata [4:20]
2. Pass' e mezzo [5:29]
Tarquinio MERULA (1594/5-1665)
3. Toccata del secondo tono [3:47]
4. Capriccio cromatico [3:38]
5. Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643) Cento partite sopra passacaglia [10:58]
6. Bernardo STORACE (fl. mid-17th century) Ballo della battaglia [1:49]
7. Michelangelo ROSSI (1601/2-1656) Toccata settima  [4:35]
8. Gregorio STROZZI (ca. 1615-1687) Toccata de Passacagli, e ciascheduno può sonarsi à solo [5:22]
9. Girolamo FRESCOBALDI Toccata duodecima [4:24]
10. Bernardo STORACE Ciaccona [5:55]
11. Gregorio STROZZI Toccata prima per cembali et organi, con pedarole e senza (arr. Henriksson & Norvio) [7:03]


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