Masterworks and Miniatures

Organ and harpsichord music from Renaissance Venice
Richard Lester
77:53
Nimbus NI 5931
Music by Buus, A & G Gabrieli, Guami, Merulo, Padovano & Willaert

Richard Lester plays music by a range of composers who worked in Venice: Buus, the two Gabrielis, Guami, Merulo, Padovano and Willaert. Most are played on an Italian-style organ built in 1977 by Giovanni Tamburini for St. James Catholic Church, Reading with the rest on an unnamed harpsichord. This organ is very well suited to the music and has a bright outgoing organo pieno with good flutes for contrast; Lester’s registration works well throughout. The harpsichord sounds a bit flabby and lacking in brightness in comparison. The playing is confident and rhythm is steady, a bit too much so in the ricercars and toccatas which could do with some more flexibility, but effective in the canzonas. The real meat of the recording is made up of four big toccatas by Merulo interspersed with Intonazioni by Giovanni Gabrieli (though the modes of both are not matched). These toccatas are very substantial pieces and Lester keeps the listener involved throughout. The sleeve notes are a mixed bag: simplistic and out of date on the historical background, especially in comments on the Council of Trent and music, they are informative on the music and organ registration. There are some typos, the more serious of which is that Valvasone, the church in Friuli with an important surviving 1533 organ by Vincenzo Columbi, has here become ‘Valvestone’ (presumably one of those annoying auto-corrections!). This has clearly been a labour of love on Lester’s part and is certainly worth listening to. There is an associated edition of the music and a DVD demonstrating fingering and ornamentation.

Noel O’Regan