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Giovanni Maria TRABACI (c1575 - 1647): "Opere per Clavicembalo"

Lydia Maria Blank, harpsichord

rec: Nov 30 - Dec 3, 2009, Schloß Walpersdorf
stellamaris - SM201001 (© 2010) (76'56")

Canto Fermo II del 2° tono [1]; Canzon Franzesa II [1]; Canzona Franzesa III [1]; Canzona Franzesa VII cromatica [1]; Capriccio sopra La, Fa, Sol, La [1]; Gagliarda I a 5 detta La Galante [2]; Gagliarda II [1]; Gagliarda III [1]; Gagliarda IV a 5 alla Spagnola [2]; Gagliarda V cromatica a 5 detta la Trabacina [2]; Gagliarda VII [1]; Io mi son giovinetta [1]; Partite sopra Fidele [1]; Partite sopra Rugiero [1]; Ricercar 4° tono con tre fughe, & suoi riversi [2]; Ricercar 6° tono cromatico [2]; Ricercar 9° tono con tre fughe [1]; Toccata I 2° tono [1]; Toccata II 8° tono [1]; Toccata IV a 5 [2]

Sources: [1] Ricercate, canzone francese, capricci ..., 1603; [2] Il secondo libro de ricercate & altri varij capricci, 1615

Girolamo Frescobaldi has been one of the most influential composers of keyboard music in the history of Western music. His style of composing spread over Europe through his pupils and his influence reached as far as Johann Sebastian Bach. But he himself didn't fall from the sky: he also picked up what had been developed in the late 16th and early 17th century. Although there hasn't been a formal connection between Frescobaldi and the composers of what is called the Neapolitan school, there is no doubt that the latter developed some of the features which were to become characteristic of the music of Frescobaldi and other Italian keyboard players and composers.

One of the representatives of the Neapolitan school was Giovanni Maria Trabaci. Since 1594 he worked in Naples, first as a tenor, then as an organist. In 1601 he was appointed organist of the royal chapel of the Spanish viceroys, where Giovanni de Macque was maestro di cappella. De Macque, who was of Flemish birth, is considered the founder of the Neapolitan keyboard school, and both Trabaci and Ascanio Mayone - second organist since 1602 - were pupils of De Macque. When the latter died in 1614 Trabaci was appointed as his successor, and this post he held until his death.

Although in books on music history Trabaci is mainly mentioned as a composer of keyboard music he also wrote a number of vocal compositions, both sacred (masses, psalms, hymns and motets) and secular (madrigals and villanellas). His keyboard oeuvre contains about 165 pieces, and the largest part has been printed in the two collections from which Lydia Maria Blank has chosen the pieces for her programme. As the tracklist shows the main forms of keyboard music are represented: toccatas, canzonas, ricercares and gagliardas. In addition there are two sets of partite or variations on a subject.

Two aspects are especially interesting in the music on this disc as they have had a lasting influence on the development of the keyboard music in Italy and beyond.
Firstly, most pieces are divided into various sections of a contrasting character. This reflects the baroque esthetic ideal of chiaroscuro, the opposition of light and shadow. The most significant example is the toccata where the difference between the various sections is underlined by contrasting tempi. Of all forms in Italian keyboard music this is the most capricious, giving the impression of being improvised. The canzona and the ricercar also contain various sections which are distinguished by fugal entries. The gagliarda often contains fugal passages as well.
Secondly, the ideal of chiaroscuro was also applied to the way harmony was treated. In Trabaci's music we find a number of passages with dissonants and chromaticism. The titles of several pieces indicate where chromatic passages can be found, but chromaticism is also present in one of the Partite sopra Fidele. The subject, by the way, is the same as the Folia which appears in the oeuvre of so many composers in Italy in the 17th century (Frescobaldi, for instance).

Trabaci is an interesting figure of historical importance. He worked at the brink of the renaissance and the baroque and his oeuvre contains modern and traditional elements. Modern is his use of chromaticism, which would become quite popular later in the 17th century. Io mi son giovinetta, on the other hand, is an example of his use of diminution techniques, which were frequently used in the late 16th century, but would become obsolete in the 17th. Noteworthy is also the fact that Trabaci didn't make a clear difference between pieces for harpsichord or for organ. In his collections he even indicates that some pieces may be played at the harp.

In this recital which gives a good survey of Trabaci's oeuvre Lydia Maria Blank only plays the harpsichord. She uses an instrument built after Italian harpsichords of the 18th century. This may sound a bit odd but harpsichord building in Italy hardly changed during the 17th and 18th centuries, so it is perfectly possible to use an 18th-century model in Trabaci. Ms Blank delivers an enthralling performance, in which the differences between the various genres as well as the contrasts within the pieces come off well. The tempi are mostly rather moderate; sometimes I could have imagined a faster tempo. But the slower pieces never fall apart, and the chosen tempi allow the listener to follow the various lines. Thanks to the temperament of 1/4 comma meantone Trabaci's harmonic experiments are clearly coming to the fore.

The recording is crisp and clear. The miking is close enough to reveal the details of the score, without making the listener lose the complete picture. At some moments a single tone sustains a bit too long and starts to waver. But this could well only be noticeable while listening with headphones. Ms Blank has also written illuminating liner-notes which are available in German, English, French and Italian.

Trabaci's music isn't that well represented on disc, and considering his historical importance and the quality of his music this release is very welcome. And as the playing and recording are first-rate there is every reason to strongly recommend this production.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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