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The Organ of the Badia Fiorentina
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612)
Toccata del 2 tono (C 236) [02:56]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Partite sopra l'aria di Fiorenza [04:10]
Toccata IX (1627) [05:57]
Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710)
Variazioni capricciose [07:00]
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Fantasia in a minor (FVB 52) [08:31]
Giles FARNABY (1560-1640)
Mal Sims (FVB 281) [04:01]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Fantasia C1 'auf die Manier eines Echo' (SwWV 253) [11:36]
Pavana Lachrimae (SsWV 328) [06:12]
Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663)
Englische Mascarada oder Judentanz (WV 108)
Francisco CORREA DE ARAUXO (1584-1654)
Tiento y discurso de 2 tono [05:58]
Giovanna Riboli (organ)
Rec. 2019, Badia Fiorentina, Florence, Italy
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere

There was a time that recordings were devoted to one particular instrument: a flute, a viola da gamga or a harpsichord. That was the time that historical instruments were little-known and seldom used for recordings. Today, period instruments are very common, and most players make use of copies of historical instruments. The main exception is the organ: every year one or several recordings are released which shed light on an instrument of historical importance. The disc under review here is one of them. Giovanna Riboldi presents the organ in the Badia Fiorentina, an abbey and church now home to the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem situated on the Via del Proconsolo in the centre of Florence. It was completed in 1558 by Onofrio Zeffirini da Cortona (Tuscany). In 1978 the instrument was restored and returned to its original state. Its temperament is quarter comma meantone.

Giovanna Riboli has put together a programme of music that covers a large part of Europe; the exception is France. Obviously, the temperament of this organ reduces the repertoire: in the course of the 18th century meantone temperament gradually went out of fashion. Because of this, Riboli has confined herself to pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries. It has to be said that she has not been very adventurous in her selection: nearly all the pieces are pretty well-known. The exceptions may be those by Scheidemann and Correa de Arauxo.

The toccatas represent one of the main genres of the time, which finds its culmination in the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. It has a marked improvisatory character, and that comes well to the fore in the two specimens included here. Frescobaldi represents a different stage in the development of the genre, in comparison with the one by Gabrieli, due to the contrast in character between the various sections.

Another important genre was that of the fantasia, which also has no fixed form. As a result fantasias can be very different. What they have in common is that they are dominated by counterpoint. The two fantasias by Byrd and Sweelinck are testimonies of their command of this art. Sweelinck's fantasia is a special case in that he makes use of the echo technique, something he was famous for. His oeuvre includes several pieces in which he applies this technique. Spanish composers also liked to write fantasias, known as tientos. Although Giovanna Ribaldi is right in stating that one can play non-Italian pieces on an Italian instrument as this one, here I missed the colours that are so typical of Spanish organs.

Two pieces are specimens of a third important genre of keyboard music (and of music in general, for that matter): variations on all kinds of tunes, from sacred hymns to popular songs. Such variations were sometimes known as partite; we find the reminiscences of that in Bach's chorale partitas. Frescobaldi used a popular tune by Emilio de' Cavalieri, known as Ballo del Granduca. It was part of the Intermedi to the play La Pellegrina, performed at the occasion of the wedding of Grand Duke Ferdinando de Medici and Cristina of Lorraine in Florence in 1589. Another popular tune is Mal Sims, used for variations by Giles Farnaby. Sweelinck used the same tune for variations; there it is known as Malle Sijmen. Bernardo Pasquini is the latest composer in the programme; he was considered the most brilliant organist in Italy after the death of Frescobaldi. His Variazioni capricciose are not based on a specific tune. The word capricciose indicates that it is dominated by invention and variety as well as coloratura.

Sweelinck's Pavana Lachrimae does not belong among the genre of variations, even though it is often considered as such (as by Ribaldi in her liner-notes). However, it is an arrangement of Dowland's Lachrymae Pavan. Sweelinck adds little of his own, but rather adapts it for keyboard.

Today the organ is generally considered an instrument for sacred music. However, organs could also be used outside the church. From that perspective there is no objection to the inclusion of Scheidemann's Englische Mascarada oder Judentanz. Another question is whether such pieces can be played at a church organ. That also concerns some other pieces which were certanly not intended as liturgical music. In fact, in this programme only the two toccatas and Correa de Arauxo's tientos can find a place in the liturgy.

Taking a more pragmatic approach, the pieces performed here do well at the organ, even though most of them were probably intended for a strung keyboard instrument in the first place. The exception is Farnaby's Mal Sims. Because of the quite reverberant acoustic, Ribaldi has to play it in a rather moderate tempo, and this takes away its sparkle. Little of the popular nature of the tune is left here. In general I find the articulation not clear enough, considering the acoustical circumstances. I also noted that the tempi tend to be a bit slowish.

The sound and the colours of this organ are impressive and justify its use for a recording. Every organ lover should investigate this disc. Giovanna Ribaldi is a fine organist and I have certainly enjoyed what is on offer here. It is just that I would have liked a selection of music that is more adventurous and better suited to the acoustic of the church, also with regard to tempo.

Johan van Veen

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