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Stravaganza: Italian music from 1550-1700
Sara Águeda (arpa doppia)
Javier Núñez (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Presentación, Segovia, Spain
DUX 1567 [65:08]

The title of this disc is well chosen. New Grove defines stravaganza as “a term for a piece in no specific form involving melodic, harmonic, rhythmic or other features of an extraordinary kind”. There was certainly no lack of the extraordinary in Italian music during the period which this disc covers. Composers wrote virtuosic instrumental pieces in which they explored the features of specific instruments. Harmonic experiments resulted in an extreme use of dissonances and chromaticism. It motivated the construction of chromatic harpsichords, which had 19 keys per octave. Performing vocal music on instruments was common practice during the Renaissance, but in the second half of the 16th century performers liked to add their own ornamentation and variations, so-called diminutions. These were partly improvised, but such pieces were also printed, as part of treatises, or included in collections of music for keyboard.

The programme recorded by Sara Águeda and Javier Núñez documents various aspects of performance practice at the time. Let us first have a look at the instruments. The harpsichord was one of the main instruments for secular music of various kinds. Most composers of keyboard music were also organists. Their repertoire was partly interchangeable, although obviously music of a liturgical character was intended for the organ. The harp was also an important instrument, but only a few composers wrote music specifically intended for it. One of them was Giovanni Maria Trabaci (Toccata II e ligature per l’arpa). Otherwise harpists played music written for keyboard or for plucked instruments, such as the chitarrone. In this programme, some pieces are performed on either of the two instruments, but most are played on both.

One may wonder whether such a combination was practiced at the time. It is one of the improvisatory aspects of this recording. The treatment of vocal music is another. Se l’aura spira, Girolamo Frescobaldi’s best-known aria, is performed here on the two instruments. Other examples are Giovanni Gabrieli’s madrigal Lieta godea, and Per dolor me bagno il viso by Bartolomeo Tromboncino. The latter piece is a frottola, a popular form of secular vocal music from the first half of the 16th century. Such pieces were frequently arranged for instrumental performance. In 1517, Andrea Antico published a collection of Frottole Intabulate da Sonare, probably the first printed edition of keyboard music. First we hear the performers’ own version of Tromboncino’s frottola, and then the version from Antico’s edition.

Harmonic experiments manifest themselves in various pieces. The most famous of them is the Toccata VII by Michelangelo Rossi, which towards the end is increasingly dominated by strong dissonances. Another specimen is the Toccata IV per il cembalo cromatico, an example of a piece which explores the possibilities of the chromatic harpsichord.

Instrumental music could be performed in various ways. A keyboard piece could be played by several instruments, such as a consort of viols, but music for an instrumental ensemble could also be played on a keyboard instrument. An example is one of the best-known pieces by Andrea Falconieri, La suave melodia from a collection of pieces for one to three strings or other instruments and basso continuo.

Lastly, in some pieces the performers go a step further than just adapt a piece for their respective instruments or add ornamentation. They add their own improvisations to two pieces from the collection of keyboard music published in 1551 by Gardano in Venice, Intabolatura nova. They do the same with the Tarantela, a piece by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz, a Spanish guitarist and harpist, taken from a collection of music for guitar, harp or keyboard. The programme closes with partite (variations) on one of the most popular tunes of the baroque era, la Folia. Bernardo Pasquini was the main composer of keyboard music in Italy of the generation after Frescobaldi. The performers add their own variations to his.

It brings to a close a colourful programme of instrumental music, which is a perfect illustration of some features of a period of experimentation and improvisation. The harpsichord and the harp are a rather unlikely combination, which works quite well. This kind of repertoire, part of which is not that well known, requires fantasy and creativity, and both artists show that they have those qualities. This and the technical mastery of their respective instruments – as well as the choice of repertoire – result in a compelling recital.

Johan van Veen

Giovanni PICCHI (1571/1572-1643)
Ballo alla Polacha [2:01]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Se l'aura spiro [2:24]
Antonio VALENTE (fl 1565-1580)
Chi la dira, disminuita [3:26]
Tenore Grande alla Napolitana [2:29]
Michelangelo ROSSI (c1601-1656)
Toccata VII [5:38]
anon & improvisation
Le forze d'Hercole [2:00]
Gamba Gagliarda [1:27]
Giovanni Maria TRABACI (c1575-1647)
Consonanze stravaganti [1:32]
Gagliarda I a 5 dette La Galante [3:21]
Ascanio MAYONE (c1565-1627)
Toccata IV per il cembalo cromatico [3:38]
Bellerofonte CASTALDI (1581-1649)
Capriccio detto Cerimonioso [3:53]
Andrea FALCONIERI (1585-1656)
La suave melodia [3:55]
Giovanni GABRIELI (c1555-1612)
Lieto godea [3:02]
Giovanni PICCHI
Passamezzo [5:04]
Per dolor me bagno il viso [2:18]
Andrea ANTICO (c1480-1538)
Per dolor me bagno il viso [2:46]
Giovanni Battista FERRINI (1601-1674)
Ballo di Mantova [3:49]
Lucas Ruiz DE RIBAYAZ (1626-c1677) & improvisation
Tarantela [2:14]
Giovanni Maria TRABACI
Toccata II e ligature per arpa [2:56]
Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710) & improvisation
Partite sopra la Aria della Folia da Espagna



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