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Bernardo STORACE (c1637 - c1707): "Works for Harpsichord & Organ"

Jörg Halubek, harpsichorda, organb
rec: August 7 - 8, 2006, Stuttgart, Fruchtkasten (Instrumentenmuseum)a, Sept 26, 2006, Stuttgart, Musikhochschule (Orgelraum)b
CPO - 777 444-2 (© 2009) (72'41")

Aria sopra la Spagnolettaa; Ballettoa; Ballo della Battagliab Capriccio sopra Ruggierob; Ciacconaa; Folliaa; Partite sopra il cinque Passia; Passagagli sopra ca; Passagagli sopra cb; Passagagli sopra fa; Recercar in e minorb; Romanescab; Toccata in Fb; Toccata in Gb

Bernardo Storace is a bit of a mystery. Very little is known of his life: we only know what is printed at the title-page of his only collection of music, the Selva di varie compositioni d’intavolatura per cimbalo ed organo, which was published in Venice in 1664. It says: "Vice-maestro di cappella of the Illustrious Senate of the Noble and Exemplary City of Messina". This is part of the mystery: why did a composer who lived in Messina in Sicily publish his music in Venice? And as his compositions have more in common with the North Italian keyboard music than with the southern style from Rome or Naples it is suggested he may have been born and educated in the North of Italy. But we just don't know.

It is especially the Ciaccona from this collection which is part of the standard repertoire of today's keyboard players. Because of its virtuosic and dramatic character it is often used as a show-stopper, preferably to end a harpsichord recital. It is remarkable that Jörg Halubek starts his programme with this work rather than save it for the end. But this disc shows there is more in this collection of music which deserves attention. Not that Halubek is the first to record Storace's music: the recording by Fabio Bonizzoni - pupil of Ton Koopman - which I used as comparison (Glossa GCD 921506), is the only one I had access to, but Rinaldo Alessandrini also devoted a whole disc to Storace's music (Astrée E 8702).

Many of Storace's keyboard works are based on ostinato basses. Apparently the composer had a strong preference for this form of composition. They can be divided into two groups: on the one hand variations on passamezzo, romanesca, spagnoletta, monica and Ruggiero patterns, on the other hand passacaglias and a ciacona. Although the passacaglias are divided into partite - like many variation works by Frescobaldi - Storace aims at a stronger formal unity. The various partite are each characterised by different keys, metres and affetti. An example is the Passagagli sopra f which consists of three sections, in f minor, B flat minor (grave) and E flat (allegro) respectively.

The Follia was very popular in the 17th century. Storace's composition with this title is divided into two groups of nine variations each. In each group every variation increases the virtuosity and speed, creating a kind of crescendo effect. The ninth variation has the character of a lamento. Also popular in Storace's time was the Battaglia: many composers wrote battle scenes for keyboard or for instrumental ensembles. Jörg Halubek plays it on the organ, whereas Bonizzoni has chosen the harpsichord.

It is one of the pieces which can be played on either instrument. The Ciaccona is definitely a work for harpsichord and just doesn't fit the organ. The Recercar is an example of Storace's contrapuntal skills and fares best on the organ. The same is true for the Toccatas, which in fact consist of a Toccata and a Canzona. These clearly belong together and are a prefiguration of the later prelude and fugue combination.

Jörg Halubek has chosen two splendid instruments, both historical. The harpsichord was probably built around 1600 in Venice and the organ, which has no date nor the name of the builder, is probably from the mid-18th century. As very little changed in the way Italian organs were built in the 17th and 18th centuries this is a perfect choice for a programme like this. Especially important is the tuning: mean-tone temperament as applied here is a necessary prerequisite to bring this music to life. Otherwise the many harmonic peculiarities would pass by almost unnoticed.

Jörg Halubek is giving very decent and stylish performances of this fine repertoire. But I think his playing is far too introverted and lacks emotion and passion. The comparison with the recording by Fabio Bonizzoni is very revealing. The Ciaccona is a very exciting piece with strong contrasts between its various sections. That is barely noticeable in Halubek's performance. Bonizzoni's performance is much more incisive and passionate, thanks to a faster tempo - which is varied now and then to increase the tension -, a sharper articulation, more ornamentation and a much stronger rhythmic characterisation. That is also the case in other pieces which both artists play on the harpsichord, for instance the Balletto. In general I rate Bonizzoni higher in the harpsichord items as he comes closer to the true character of Storace's music. He plays the organ pieces well, but here Halubek has a strong case. I think Bonizzoni adds too many trills, something he has copied from Ton Koopman. But what works on the harpsichord doesn't necessarily work on the organ. Even though I think Halubek could have been a bit more extraverted here as well in the end I probably slightly prefer his interpretations. The counterpoint comes out really well in his performances, for instance in the Recercar.

As both recordings contain pieces which don't appear on the other disc I would recommend both. But if you want to purchase one disc which gives you a really good impression of the brilliance of Storace's keyboard music you should go for Bonizzoni.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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Jörg Halubek

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