Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger: Intavolatura

Stefano Maiorana chitarrone
Fra Bernado FB 1603777

In this interesting CD, Stefano Maiorana shows the wealth and diversity of Kapsberger’s music for solo chitarrone. Four collections of Kapsberger’s music were published between 1604 and 1640; Book 2 is lost, and the only surviving copy of Book 3 has pages missing, but there is plenty for us to enjoy.

The CD begins with Preludio Primo and Preludio Secondo from Book 4, in character reminiscent of the old early 16th-century recercari, which explore musical ideas in an unstructured way. Maiorana has a very free interpretation of the quavers to try to give some sort of shape to what on paper can seem an aimless succession of random notes. Most impressive is his clarity and precision when playing fast notes slurred together, which is a feature of so much music for the chitarrone, particularly Kapsperger’s.

In another pair of Preludes – nos 10 and 9 from Book 4 – Maiorana sometimes races on with quavers in an effort to make the music expressive. This can be useful to make the music increase in intensity, but occasionally I would prefer to savour these comparatively slow notes a little more, and leave the fireworks for the semiquavers. Towards the end of Preludio 9 there is a short sequence of quavers each preceded by exciting semiquaver triplets. They are played as campanellas across the strings, so the notes can ring on to produce a curiously discordant effect. Many of Kapsberger’s chords consist of six or even seven notes, and are marked with two dots separated by a line – diagonal in Books 1 and 3, and more horizontal in Book 4 – similar to % or ÷, requiring them to be arpeggiated. At the end of Preludio 9 he adds some extra notes of his own based on didactic material from Book 3.

Track 2 is an extraordinary piece from Book 3, a florid intabulation – “Passeggiato” – of Gesualdo’s “Com’ esser può” from his Primo Libro  (1616). The original score a5 can be seen on the IMSLP website. Kapsberger first creates a figured bass line derived from the lowest notes of the lowest two voices of the madrigal, often transposed down an octave or two. Beneath this is the tablature for the chitarrone. There are rolled chords with the % sign, campanellas, very fast slurred notes, slurred parallel sixths, deep diapasons, and ending with a florid perfect cadence decorated with campanellas at the eighth fret. Maiorana gets his hands round it all with suitable panache.

Maiorana’s interpretation of the well-known Toccata seconda Arpeggiata in Book 1 is thoughtfully phrased. Occasionally he changes the arpeggio pattern so that the lowest note is played only once per bar, and in bar 15 I think he waits a little too long on the highest note, losing the flow.

The dances offer a welcome contrast to all the free-wheeling preludes and toccatas. The Gagliarda from Book 3 is preceded by Maiorana’s own stylish prelude made up from material elsewhere in the book. The dance goes with a swing, but I wonder if he should have chosen a slower tempo, because he fails to keep up the momentum in the second Partita (variation) where the music races along in quavers. Also from Book 3 are two lively Correntes, each followed by an exciting variation consisting of continuous quavers in style brisé.

Kapsberger’s inventiveness can be seen in the Passacaglia from Book 4, where contrasting variations follow each other over an oft-repeated hypnotic bass. Most entertaining is the Battaglia (nearly nine minutes long) from Book 4. True, there are occasional successions of tonic chords with different inversions as one would find in other battle pieces of the time, but Kapsberger goes much further, creating a medley of tunes with different time signatures. There are effects typical of Kapsberger, like the sudden appearance of a strangely chromatic harmonic sequence, and Maiorana adds nice touches of his own: a curious tambour effect, and a great crash of diapasons at the end. It would bring the house down.

Stewart McCoy