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Recording

Bernard Storace In Modo Pastorale

Marouan Mankar-Bennis harpsichord & organ
77:00
L’Encelade ECL2101

This is an endearing recording which plunges the listener into a South Italian Christmas via a church bell and a bagpipe-like Pastorale, played on a 1768 Spanish organ by Buenafuente del Sistal (now in the church of Saint-Éloi de Fresnes near Paris). In this and other organ pieces, some subtle – and some not-so-subtle – percussion is added which provides a sense of theatre. Storace described himself as vice-choirmaster to the City of Messina, when publishing his only print in Venice in 1664; otherwise, nothing is known about him. His compositions represent a generic post-Frescobaldi idiom using familiar dance and variation forms: the Ciacona, Follia, Monica, Passacagli, and Ruggiero all feature, as well as as a couple of Recercars and a Toccata-Canzona pairing. One of the Recercars uses the ‘Sancta Maria’ refrain as its starting point, before introducing a chromatic subject and then moving on to a further one, eventually combining all three in what is a very effective piece. The other is entitled ‘di legature’ and was probably intended for the Elevation, though played here on a spinet: it strays into some strange chromatic territory towards the end.

While using familiar genres, Storace proves to be an inventive composer and Mankar-Bennis is a persuasive advocate. He adds a couple of his own short improvisations, on the Bergamasca and the Trombetta/Girometta. As well as the organ, with its blaring Spanish trumpets, he plays on an Italian-style harpsichord by Sean Rawnsley, after Giusti, and an Italian spinet by Jean-François Brun, based on a 1626 instrument. Recording quality is clear throughout and there is a very good variety of tone colours between the three instruments. The recording is sited within a putative grand tour of Sicily by the performer, imagined during the Covid lockdown, taking with him a series of readings by Alexandre Dumas, Guy de Maupassant, and others. Some random short street recordings are added as a preface to many of the tracks; these do add atmosphere, rather than being just a distraction. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but I rather enjoyed the conceit. Full texts are given in the booklet (and online), though only in French, with just a short summary in English. This is an imaginative approach to the music of a neglected composer and making it more accessible.

Noel O’Regan