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Frescobaldi, Froberger & Storace

[I] "phantasia"
Aarón Zapico, harpsichord

rec: June 2010, Girona, Fundació Auditori Palau de Congressos (Sala de Cambra)
Winter & Winter - 910 176-2 (© 2011) (54'20")
Cover, track-list & liner-notes (E/D/F)

anon: Pavana & Saltarello; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Balletto e Ciaccona [2]; Balletto I - Corrente del Balletto [2]; Balletto II - Corrente del Balletto [2]; Balletto III - Corrente del Balletto [2]; Canzona III [3]; Capriccio sopra la Battaglia [2]; Cento Partite sopra Passacagli [2]; Gagliarda I [3]; Gagliarda II [3]; Toccata I [3]; Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Fantasia I sopra Ut re mi fa sol la (FbWV 201) [4]; Partita in a minor (FbWV 630); Toccata IV (FbWV 104) [4]; Tombeau sur la mort de monsieur Blancheroche (FbWV 632); Giovanni PICCHI (1571/72-1643): Ballo Ongaro [1]

[II] Bernardo STORACE (c1637 - c1707): "Harpsichord Music"
Naoko Akutagawa, harpsichord

rec: Oct 25 - 27, 2009, Rügheim (Unterfranken), Schüttbau
Naxos - 8.572209 (© 2011) (63'37")
Cover, track-list & liner-notes (E)

Altro passo e mezzo [5]; Aria sopra la Spagnoletta [5]; Ballo della Battaglia [5]; Capriccio sopra il passo e mezzo [5]; Ciaccona [5]; Corrente [5]; Follia [5]; La Monica [5]; Partite sopra Il cinque Passi [5]; Passagagli in c minor [5]; Passagagli sopra A la mi re [5]; Toccata [5]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Picchi, Intavolatura di balli d'arpicordo, 1621; Girolamo Frescobaldi, [2] Il primo libro d'intavolatura di toccate di cimbalo et organo, 16375; [3] Il secondo libro di toccate ..., 16372; [4] Johann Jacob Froberger, Libro secondo di toccate ..., 1649; [5] Bernardo Storace, Selva di varie compositioni d’intavolatura per cimbalo ed organo, 1664

Girolamo Frescobaldi played a crucial role in the development of keyboard music in Europe. In his oeuvre tradition and renewal go hand in hand. The former is represented by dances (balletto, corrente) and polyphonic forms like the canzona, based on vocal models. The most obvious renewal is the toccata which Frescobaldi did not invent, but which received a central place in his oeuvre. The main trait of the toccata is its improvisatory character, and this an expression of the fantasy and the sense of experiment which is one of the features of the aesthetics of early 17th-century.

Frescobaldi wasn't only a celebrated performer and composer, he was also much sought after as a teacher. Keyboard players from Italy and from North of the Alps came to Rome to study with him. One of the most famous was Johann Jacob Froberger who was mainly responsible for spreading Frecobaldi's art through Europe. It was thanks to his friendship with Louis Couperin that keyboard composers in France became acquainted with Frescobaldi's music. It is very likely that the prélude non mesuré which was created by Louis Couperin was inspired by the Frescobaldian toccata.

The Spanish harpsichordist Aarón Zapico has recorded pieces by Frescobaldi and his pupil which show the variety of forms in his oeuvre. As far as Frescobaldi is concerned, we find some free forms like the toccata (Toccata I), polyphonic forms (Canzona III) and dances (Balletti and Correnti, Gagliarda II) and variations. The Cento Partite sopra Passacagli is one of Frescobaldi's most famous compositions, which reflects both the tradition of polyphony and the fashion of composing over a basso ostinato. Those forms which were part of a long tradition didn't disappear after Frescobaldi, as Froberger's oeuvre shows. He was one of the first composers to put dances into the structure of a suite. In his suites new dances appear which Frescobaldi didn't compose, like the sarabande and the gigue. Froberger didn't only made the French get acquainted with the music of Frescobaldi, he himself embraced elements of the French style, like the tombeau and the plainte. We find the latter as the first movement of the Partita in a minor. The disc opens with a fantasia which - like the prelude - has its origin in the toccatas of Frescobaldi.

In addition to the works of Frescobaldi and Froberger we hear two anonymous pieces and a ballo by Giovanni Picchi. He also wrote toccatas, which shows that Frescobaldi can't be considered the inventor of this genre.

Aarón Zapico delivers very good performances and catches the character of the various genres well. The only piece which is a bit disappointing is the closing Tombeau de Monsieur Blancheroche which is short on Affekt. The pauses are too long which damages the coherence. By comparison I listened to a performance by Blandine Verlet which is by far more expressive. I am also surprised by the choice of the harpsichord. Zapico uses the copy of an instrument by the German builder Michael Mietke, with two manuals. That works rather well in Froberger, but less so in Frescobaldi, where an Italian harpsichord, with its more penetrating sound, would have been the most obvious choice.

We know quite a lot about Frescobaldi, but very little about Bernardo Storace. 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". Therefore it is impossible to tell whether he has been a pupil of Frescobaldi, but his influence is notable in Storace's keyboard music. There is no lack of recordings of his oeuvre, but as far as I know no complete recording exists. The problem is that most performers choose the same pieces from the 29 the collection includes. That is also the case with the Naxos recording, in which Naoko Akutagawa plays 12 pieces of various genres. The programme opens with the Ciaccona which is by far the most frequently performed piece. It is followed by specimens of the various genres which were in vogue in 17th-century Italy.

In his liner-notes Glen Wilson observes the aesthetic changes during the century: "The brilliantly flashing, fragmented dynamism of the early baroque is smoothed over here, as in all the sister arts in this period, into something a little easier for the lazy to digest, and technical facility is becoming a dangerously prominent feature (...)". The change in aesthetics can be demonstrated by comparing the Capriccio sopra la Battaglia by Frescobaldi, played by Aarón Zapico, and the Ballo della Battaglia by Storace which Naoko Akutagawa has recorded. Frescobaldi depicts a battle scene, whereas Storace's piece is a dance piece in the form of variations. If one wouldn't know the title one wouldn't guess that it is about a battle.

Fairly recently I reviewed another recording of pieces by Storace, in which Jörg Halubek plays harpsichord and organ. I assessed his performances as "decent and stylish", but too introverted, and lacking emotion and passion. Naoko Akutagawa is the opposite: she is no less stylish, but plays with zest and passion, and as a result we get excellent idea of the brilliance of Bernardo Storace. In the pieces on a basso ostinato she is able to keep things going, underlining the coherent character of these works. Thanks to a good articulation she suggests dynamic differences which are not really there. But that is important to communicate the rhetorical character of this kind of music. Ms Akutagawa uses the perfect instrument, a copy of a harpsichord by Carlo Grimaldi of Messina, a builder whom Storace may have known personally.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Naoko Akutagawa
Aarón Zapico

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