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Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Toccate, Capricci, Fiori Musicali
Francesco Cera (harpsichord, organ)
Riccardo Pisani (tenor)
David Maria Gentile (solo voice)
Ensemble Arte Musica/Walter Testolin/Andrés Montilla-Acurero
rec. 2015-2018, various locations in Italy
ARCANA A463 [7 CDs: 489 mins]

The celebrated Italian composer, keyboard performer and teacher Girolamo Frescobaldi was born in Ferrara in September 1583, the exact date is not known, and he died in Rome on 1 March 1643. His significance is that his music straddles the period of the Renaissance to the Baroque, and he became one of the most influential keyboard composers of the early seventeenth century. He studied with Luzzasco Luzzaschi and was applauded for his beautiful singing voice as well as his virtuoso organ playing. In 1608 he was appointed organist to St. Peter's in Rome, a position he retained until his death. That same year Frescobaldi began publishing collections of his works, most notably Fiori musicale di diverse compositioni, tocatte, kyrie, canzone, capprici, e recercare, a 4, in partiture, which includes three organ masses. These were greatly admired by Johann Sebastian Bach, who copied them out, and they’re incorporated into this collection. Frescobaldi’s pupils included Luigi Battiferri, Francesco Muti, Valerio Spada and Jakob Johann Froberger.

The set focuses on four collections from the Frescobaldi oeuvre, each one significant in its contribution to the history of keyboard music – two books of Toccate e Partite, the Capricci and the Fiori Musicale. Cera has selected an array of exquisite instruments, nine in all, made up of organs and harpsichords, set in wonderful locations in Italy. For the more technically minded, Cera explains in the booklet notes the variations in tuning of the harpsichords used. There’s also discussion around the sources for the vocal elements employed in the Fiori Musicale, and for this he drew on research of musicologist Daniele Torelli, an expert in Gregorian chant of the 16th and 17th centuries. I’m impressed by how much consideration and thought has gone into the making of this collection.

Two CDs each are devoted to the Primo libro di Toccate e Partite and the Secondo libro di Toccate. To offer some contrast, Cera has chosen to place between the toccatas the pieces of various genres, yet within this arrangement adhering to the composer’s order for the toccatas. The layout is listed in the contents below the review. There’s so much freshness emanating from these pieces, and one can only listen in awe to the inventive and fertile creative process which was Frescobaldi’s. For me it’s been a journey of adventure. Also the array of different instruments used adds colour and further interest to the experience. The vocal contributions in the second book come courtesy of the Ensemble Arte Musica.

The Capricci, 12 in number, were printed in Rome in 1624. To add a touch of variety, Cera alternates them on organ and harpsichord. Each has themes contrapuntally decorated with ingenuity and imagination, and they certainly charm the ear. Capriccio V sopra la Bassa Fiamenga is one of the more popular ones of the set. Capriccio XI con obligo di cantare la quinta parte has a lovely vocal line, delivered by the tenor Riccardo Pisani with refinement and delicacy.

The gems of the collection are to be found on CDs 6 and 7. They are the Fiori Musicali (Musical Flowers), which contain three organ masses, first published in Venice in 1635, when Frescobaldi was working as organist of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and at the height of his musical powers. The pieces which make up the Fiori Musicali are arranged into three masses: Domenica (based on the Gregorian Mass XI, Orbis factor), Apostoli (based on the Gregorian Mass IV, Cunctipotens Genitor Deus), and Madonna (based on the Gregorian Mass IX, Cum Jubilo). Each mass is introduced by a toccata. The rest are organ pieces and sung chant. Once again, the Ensemble Arte Musica do full justice to the vocal parts with their pristine intonation and ensemble. Cera takes great care to delineate the polyphonic lines, which emerge with clarity and definition. Such is the greatness of the Fiori Musicali, that they may have been the inspiration for Bach’s Art of Fugue.

This is a lavish production by any standards and the sound quality from each of the instruments and in each of the venues is second to none. I’ve found it extremely helpful to be guided through “the beauty and mystery of (Frescobaldi’s) music ... both refined and rich in details” by the accompanying scholarly notes provided by Francesco Cera himself. These are both in English and French. The beautifully produced colour plates of the instruments used in the recordings are an added bonus. I’ve no hesitation in saying that this set is guaranteed to yield bountiful rewards.

Stephen Greenbank

Toccate e Partite Libro Primo
Toccata Prima
Partite sopra Follia
Toccata Seconda
Corrente Prima
Corrente Seconda
Corrente Terza
Corrente Quarta
Toccata Terza
Capriccio sopra la Battaglia
Balletto e Ciaccona (G major)
Balletto e Ciaccona (a minor)
Toccata Quarta
Partite sopra Ruggiero
Toccata Quinta
Balletto, Corrente e Passacagli [I]
Partite sopra la Monica
Toccata Sesta
Cento partite sopra Passacagli
Toccata Settima
Balletto, Corrente e Passacagli [III]
Toccata Ottava
Capriccio Fra Jacopino sopra l’aria di Ruggiero
Toccata Nona
Partite sopra l’aria di Romanesca
Toccata Decima
Balletto e Corrente [II]
Toccata Undecima
Capriccio Pastorale
Toccata Duodecima

Capriccio I sopra ut re mi fa sol la
Capriccio II sopra la sol fa mi re ut
Capriccio III sopra il cucco
Capriccio IV sopra la sol fa re mi
Capriccio V sopra la Bassa Fiamenga
Capriccio VI sopra la Spagnoletta
Capriccio VIII cromatico con ligature al contrario
Capriccio IX di durezze
Capriccio X sopra un soggetto
Capriccio XI con obligo di cantare la quinta parte
Capriccio XII sopra l’aria di Ruggiero
Capriccio VII sopra l’aria Or che noi rimena

Secondo Libro di Toccate
Toccata Prima
Aria detta la Frescobalda
Canzona Prima
Toccata Seconda
Canzona Seconda
Corrente Prima
Corrente Seconda
Toccata Terza per l’organo da sonarsi all’Elevazione
Canzona Terza
Inno della Domenica
Toccata Quarta per l’organo da sonarsi all’Elevazione
Canzona Quarta
Inno degli Apostoli
Toccata Quinta sopra i pedali per l’organo, e senza
Inno Iste confessor
Toccata Sesta per l’organo sopra i pedali, e senza
Toccata Settima
Inno Ave Maris Stella
Toccata Ottava di durezze e ligature
Aria detta Balletto
Gagliarda Quarta
Toccata Nona
Canzona Quinta
Gagliarda Seconda
Gagliarda Terza
Toccata Decima
Corrente Quarta
Corrente Quinta
Corrente Sesta
Toccata Undecima
Canzona Sesta
Gagliarda Prima
Gagliarda Quinta
Ancidetemi pur d’Arcadelt passaggiato

Fiori Musicali
Messa della Domenica
Toccata avanti la Messa della Domenica
Kyrie – Christe – Kyrie
Kyrie – Christe – Kyrie alio modo
Canzon dopo l’Epistola
Ricercar dopo il Credo
Toccata cromatica per l’Elevatione
Canzon post il Comune
Messa degli Apostoli
Toccata avanti la Messa
Kyrie – Christe – Kyrie
Kyrie – Christe – Kyrie alio modo
Canzon dopo l’Epistola
Toccata avanti il Recercar
Recercar cromatico post il Credo
Altro Recercar
Toccata per l’Elevatione
Recercar con l’obbligo del basso come appare
Canzon quarti toni dopo il Postcomunio
Messa della Madonna
Toccata avanti la Messa della Madonna
Kyrie – Christe – Kyrie
Christe alio modo
Canzon dopo l’Epistola
Recercar dopo il Credo
Toccata avanti il Recercar
Recercar con obbligo di cantar la quinta parte senza toccarla
Toccata per l’Elevatione
Capriccio sopra la Girolmeta
from Secondo Libro di Toccate
Magnificat primi toni
Magnificat secundi toni
Magnificat sexti toni

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