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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, UK
ATHENE ATH23204 [2 CDs: 119:70]

Gilbert Rowland, in his excellent booklet notes, states that Johann Jakob Froberger composed “at least forty Suites or Partitas which would almost certainly have been performed on the harpsichord.” This is something that undoubtedly caused this German composer, one of the greatest harpsichord virtuosos of his day, to be seen as an influential figure in the development of music, especially for that for the keyboard. Rowland points to Froberger’s apparent use of the more unusual keys as an illustration of just how innovative he was, as well as his absorbing of foreign methods from his many travels, features he then employed in his own music. He goes on to stress that he was also a great teacher and his two-way relationship with the great French composer Louis Couperin led to a cross-fertilisation of musical ideas. Rowland suggests that Froberger might have given Louis Couperin the idea of the ‘unmeasured prelude’, which the French man is credited with inventing.

The idea of listening to nearly two hours of harpsichord music might seem daunting to many people, but there is a great deal of variety here and more than enough to keep one interested. Yes, I know that the sound of the harpsichord is not everyone’s cup of tea, but there is a lot to enjoy here. Beginning with the Suite in C Major FbWV 612, the first to be presented on this set, the opening Lamento, which was composed on the death of Ferdinand III’s son at the age of 21, is beautifully lilting and an ideal starting point, with its embellishments clearly identifying the virtuosic style of Froberger. Its use of a rising scale to indicate the departed one’s assent into heaven is a masterstroke. This rising scale is used in the Gigue, whilst the Courant is French in character and the Suite concludes with a stately Sarabande.

Each of the suites presented in this set is afforded a paragraph in the booklet, which includes short descriptions of the pieces as well as often containing historical information as to why the particular suite was composed. For example, Rowland says of the Suite in G Major that opens the second disc, that it is unique in all of Froberger’s suites “in that all of its movements are based on the German folk song ‘auff die Ma˙erin.’” In discussing the piece, Rowland talks of the cynical nature of the text, something that Froberger brings out in his music. Opening with a set of six variations on the tune, the tune is then carried over into the French-sounding Courant & Double, and then in the concluding Sarabandes, which Rowland points out did not begin life together, the original 1649 autograph score only having the one. The second Sarabande was added only in the manuscript compiled by Christopher Grimm in 1698-99. Either way, this music is wonderful and full of gaiety, with the second Sarabande making a worthy conclusion to the work.

The final suite included in this volume is in E major, a very unusual key for this period. Rowland notes that there are doubts over the authorship of the Suite, as the only source for Suites FbWV 641-646 is again Christopher Grimm. They could therefore be spurious. Indeed, the opening flowing Allemande along with the symmetry of the Courant and Sarabande are unusual for the music of this composer, whose style was usually freer. Rowland also points to the length of the concluding Gig as being counter to Froberger’s usual but agrees that it makes a fitting conclusion to the Suite and to this recording as a whole.

I recently reviewed a disc of Froberger’s mainly single-movement pieces performed on the clavichord (FB1703213), which I thought was let down by the sometimes clunky instrument. No such problems here with this modern copy by Andrew Wooderson of a two-manual French harpsichord by Goemans (Paris 1750), which sounds wonderful. This set is described as volume one, which bodes well for the future, allowing us to hope that Rowland will record all the extant Suites, and possibly the shorter pieces too. I do hope so, since Rowland’s performances here are finer than either Sergio Vartolo’s or Glen Wilson’s for Naxos (8.557472-73, 8.573493-94), or those of Anne Marie Dragosits on Divox (CDX-71602). The tone of his instrument is also superior. Gilbert Rowland has been honing his skill as a performer for many years now, with results that are evident in the way he articulates the sound, getting the most from his instrument to produce performances that are first rate and among the best of his long recording career. I look forward eagerly to the arrival of volume two.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: John France

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