musica Dei donum

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Ercole Pasquini (late 16th - early 17th C): Keyboard works

James Johnstone, harpsichord, organa

rec: May 7 - 9, 2001, Chartres (Fr), Musée des Beaux-Arts & June 1, 2001, Hampstead Garden Suburbs (UK), St Jude's Churcha
ASV Gaudeamus - CD GAU 336 (66'16")

Anchor che col partire (S 21); B(allo?) (S 30); (Canzona) (S 12)a; C(anzone) (S 10); C(anzon)e (S 9)a; Canzon (S 14); Canzon (S 15); Canzona (S 18a); Canzona francese (S 13)a; Canzona francese (S 16); Corrente (S 27); Corrente (S 28a); Corrente (S 28b); Durrezza (S 8)a; Durrezze e ligature (S 7)a; Fuga (S 11)a; Gagliarda (S 29); I(ntrad)e (S 1); Pass’e mezzo (S 23b); Primo Tono (S 19); Romanescha (S 25); Romanesche (S 24); Ru(ggier)i (S 22); (Toccata) (S 2); Toc(cata) (S 3)a; Tocchata (S 4); Tocchata (S 5); Toccata (S 6)a; ? (S 26); ? (S 20)a

Of the many Italian composers of keyboard music around 1600, Ercole Pasquini is one of the least known. Even the dates of his birth and death are a mystery. By the middle of the 1580s Pasquini was active in Ferrara, which was then one of the centres of musical activity in Italy: Luzzasco Luzzaschi was organist and maestro di capella, and the Concerto delle Donne was drawing wide attention, including that of composers like Dowland, de Wert and Merulo. In 1594, Pasquini contributed a poetical work, I fidi amanti, to the wedding of the Duke of Ferrara's niece to Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa, who stayed there for two years. In 1597 Pasquini went to Rome where he became organist to the Cappella Giulia at St Peter's. But after the turn of the century he became insane and was therefore dismissed as organist in 1608 and succeeded by Girolamo Frescobaldi.

During his period in Ferrara, Pasquini must have gotten to know the musical language of Carlo Gesualdo, with its strong dissonances and frequent chromaticism. But although Pasquini certainly comes up with some harmonic surprises, he is rather restrained compared to younger contemporaries. The strongest dissonances and harmonic adventures can be found in the Toccatas and in the Durezze e ligature, which were specifically meant to be played at the organ. In other works he concentrates less on a display of virtuosity than most of his colleagues. In the passaggi on De Rore's madrigal Anchor che col partire, for instance, the melodic character of the original always holds the upper hand.

It has to be said, though, that the harmonic surprises are sometimes a little underplayed here, in particular in those pieces which are played at the harpsichord. One of the reasons is the fact that chords are frequently played as arpeggio. Since the sound of Italian harpsichords dies down pretty quickly, the harmonic characteristics of the chords aren't always fully revealed. But at the organ, arpeggios don't work; the harmonic boldness is more strongly displayed here. I would also have preferred a faster tempo now and then, and more dramatic pauses occasionally.

But I am very thankful to James Johnstone, who had the great idea to devote an entire disc to the works of this neglected composer. Having heard his music I can only conclude that this neglect is unjustified. And despite my criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed the interpretation by James Johnstone, who uses a fine Italian harpsichord of 1677 from the collection of Kenneth Gilbert, and an organ built after a historical positive organ from Lucca. The recording is pretty close, but after some time one gets used to it.
I strongly recommend this recording which colours a white spot on the map of Italian music history.

The "S" in the list of works is nowhere explained, but I gather it refers to William R. Shindle's publication of Pasquini's 'Collected Keyboard Works' from 1966. I also assume that the parts of the titles between brackets don't appear in the manuscripts.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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