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"Il Cembalo Transalpino"

Sophie Yates, harpsichord

rec: Nov 14 - 16, 2017, Cambridge, University of Cambridge (The Master's Lodge, Downing College)
Chandos - CHAN 0819 (© 2019) (65'16")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard; Giulio Cesare ARRESTI (1619-1701): Sonata in A; Giovanni Paolo COLONNA (1637-1695): Sonata in d minor; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713), arr ?Thomas ROSEINGRAVE (1690/91-1766): Sonata in d minor, op. 5,7; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Toccata VII; Peter PHILIPS (c1560-1628): Amarilli di Julio Romano in g (Caccini); Chi fara fede al Cielo di Alessandro Striggio in G; Coś moriṛ (Marenzio); Freno (Marenzio); Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard; Tirsi di Luca Marenzio in E; Giovanni PICCHI (c1571-1643): Toccata; Carlo Francesco POLLAROLO (c1653-1723): Sonata in d minor; Galeazzo [SABBATINI] (1597-1662): Praeludium; Domenico ZIPOLI (1688-1728): Canzona in g minor

Everyone interested in early keyboard music knows the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. It is one of the main sources of music by the English virginalists, and pieces from this collection are frequently performed and recorded. The entire collection was recorded by Pieter-Jan Belder for Brilliant Classics. This book is part of the Fitzwilliam Collection which is preserved at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The name Fitzwilliam is that of the man who put together this important collection, Richard, Seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion (1745-1816). The booklet to the disc under review includes two portraits of this man, who was strongly interested in 'ancient music'.

Fitzwilliam was an amateur composer, but also played the harpsichord, an instrument that was already old-fashioned in his time, being sidelined by the fortepiano. He actively collected music by composers of the past, such as Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel as well as English composers of the 16th and 17th centuries. The latter are represented by the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and Tisdale's Virginal Book. However, the collection also includes a copy of Girolamo Frescobaldi's second book of toccatas (1627) from the early 18th century. Sophie Yates made a representative selection of pieces from the collection, ranging from original compositions by Peter Philips, one of the main exponents of the English virginalist school, to pieces by Italian masters.

Philips is the key figure in the programme, and also the connection between England and Italy. He was a brilliant keyboard player, but also composed vocal music. For religious reasons (he was a Catholic), he left England and moved to the continent, where he was able to travel around and become acquainted with the latest developments, in particular in Italian music. Like some of his comtemporaries, for instance John Dowland, he was attracted to the music of Luca Marenzio, one of the latest representatives of the stile antico in the genre of the madrigal. Philips took some of his madrigals for keyboard intabulations. Three of them are included here. He succeeded in keeping the peculiar features of these madrigals - especially the use of madrigalisms which illustrate the text - intact and translating them to the keyboard. The fact that Sophie Yates plays a harpsichord in a then common temperament (quarter comma mean tone) is essential in making sure that this aspect is not lost. Philips also constructed intabulations of madrigals by other Italian composers: Alessandro Striggio and Giulio Caccini. The latter is a special case: whereas both Marenzio and Striggio are representatives of the stile antico, Caccini was the main promoter of the 'new style', and his song Amarilli mia bella his most popular piece, written in that style. Philips is also represented with a specimen of a typical English pair of dances, pavan and galliard. The notable feature of the two pieces of this kind included here, by Philips and by an anonymous composer, is that they are based on the passamezzo, an Italian sequence of notes which in the 17th century was often used by composers as the foundation of a set of variations.

The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book includes pieces by English composers, but also a few items by foreign masters. In addition to several pieces by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, we find two compositions of Italian origin. A Praeludium comes with only the Christian name of its composer, Galeazzo. Sophie Yates adds his last name, Sabbatini, but does not argue what are the reasons for this assumption. The other Italian in the collection is Giovanni Picchi, who has left a relatively small oeuvre, of which only his keyboard pieces have received some attention. Ton Koopman devoted on of his earliest recordings to his oeuvre. Picchi's Toccata is a product of the Italian stylus phantasticus, which we also find in the toccatas by Frescobaldi.

The other Italian composers in the programme are of a later generation. The best-known of them is Domenico Zipoli, who studied in Bologna and Rome, and went to the New World, where he worked in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. His only collection of music for organ and harpsichord was published in Rome in 1716 and reprinted in London in 1741. The Canzona in g is the last of the harpsichord section; it was a form of the past, and originally the keyboard version of a vocal piece (chanson). Giovanni Paolo Colonna was born in Bologna and worked there all his life. From 1662 until his death he was maestro di cappella at the Basilica San Petronio. His extant oeuvre consists almost exclusively of (sacred) vocal music. The work-list in New Grove does not mention any instrumental piece. The Sonata in d minor performed here, which includes quite some chromaticism, is part of a collection of Italian keyboard sonatas published in Amsterdam in 1705. From that same collection the pieces by Giulio Cesare Arresti and Carlo Francesco Pollarolo are also taken. Arresti was also from Bologna, where he worked as an organist. He has become best-known for his conflict with the then maestro di cappella of San Petronio, Maurizio Cazzati. His oeuvre includes some organ works, but none of them seems to have been recorded. Pollarolo was from Brescia and was eductated as an organist, but was mainly active as an opera composer. His operas (around 90) were performed across Italy and beyond. The work-list in New Grove mentions only a fugue for keyboard. Apparently, this printed edition of 1705 has escaped the attention of those who put together the work-lists of these composers. These pieces may be short, but they are well-written and give some idea of the stylistic developments in keyboard music in the late 17th century.

The discs ends with a curious piece. Arcangelo Corelli's oeuvre was quite popular in England, and that especially goes for his violin sonatas Op. 5. These were not only published in their original form, but also in all sorts of arrangements, for instance for recorder. The Fitzwilliam Collection includes an arrangement for harpsichord of the Sonata in d minor, op. 5,7. It is assumed that it is from the pen of Thomas Roseingrave, who was one of the greatest admirers of Domenico Scarlatti in England. He was responsible for a printed edition of some of Scarlatti's sonatas. That makes him a plausible candidate for the authorship of this arrangement.

This compelling programme is brilliantly performed by Sophie Yates, who shows a perfect sense of rhythm where that is needed, but also realises the vocal origin of the intabulations. In the long Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard by Philips she keeps the listener on his toes; her playing is full of tension and the result is quite exciting. She has the help of a very fine historical instrument, also preserved at the Fitzwilliam Museum. It is a single manual harpsichord by Giovanni Battista Boni (?-1641), which has three registers. It is a quite powerful thing, and its features are demonstrated to the full here. This disc is the ideal combination of an interesting programme, excellent performances and an instrument that fits them like a glove.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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Sophie Yates

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