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Asioli: Cello Sonata, Piano Sonatas

Francesco Galligioni cello, Jolanda Violante fortepiano
70:06
Brilliant Classics 95908

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The fortunes of Bonifazio Asiola very much mirror the rise and fall of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy – in 1807 at the age of 38 he is appointed director of the Milan Conservatory by the French Viceroy only to be forced into early retirement by the fall of Napoleon in 1814, although he continued to teach and compose until his death in 1832. Labelled a ‘Sonata per Clavicembalo e Violoncello Obbligato’, Asioli’s Cello Sonata is very much in the new idiom where the cello usually takes the melodic initiative while the piano tends to accompany, although the demanding keyboard part is also allowed to sparkle. This is a substantial work with wonderfully idiomatic writing for the cello – it was after all in Italy that the cello had originally emerged from its traditional continuo role to become a solo instrument. This work was composed in 1784 as a Divertimento for cello and piano, although by 1817 when it was published it had acquired a name more befitting its substantial nature.

We also hear two of Asioli’s three Piano Sonatas op 8, published around 1790, works of considerable musical variety and charm. They are given powerful and expressive renditions by Jolanda Violante on a copy of a bright and incisive Walter & Son fortepiano of 1805, while Francesco Galligioni plays wonderfully eloquently on a late 17th-century Cremonese cello. The excellent programme note by Licia Sirch mentions in passing a wealth of other work by Bonifazio Asioli, and on the basis of these three attractive sonatas, he is a name we should watch out for. But for the vagaries of history, he would probably be much more generally appreciated.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Frescobaldi: Complete unpublished works for harpsichord & organ

Roberto Loreggian
<TT> (6 CDs in a double CD case)
Brilliant Classics 96154

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This collection of six CDs marks the conclusion of Roberto Loreggian’s impressive journey through the complete keyboard music of Frescobaldi, begun back in 2008. While Frescobaldi was a careful preparer and editor of his music for publication, providing a significant canon of authentic pieces, a surprising amount survives in manuscripts scattered all round Europe. This recording has 166 pieces in total, all unpublished during the composer’s lifetime, but issued in 2017 by Etienne Darbellay and Costanze Frey as the final part of their complete edition for Suvini Zerboni. Only a handful are thought to be in Frescobaldi’s hand, but many have been identified as in the hands of collaborators and pupils such as Nicolò Borbone and Leonardo Castellani. Some are substantial pieces; others are short sketches, trial runs for later published pieces, teaching exercises, etc. Authenticating them is a complex business and has occupied scholars over many years, most notably Claudio Annibaldi, Etienne Darbellay, Frederick Hammond, Christine Jeanneret and Alexander Silbiger. Discussion continues about many pieces, and some at least are more likely to be by Frescobaldi’s pupils or followers. Silbiger maintains an online catalogue (Frescobaldi Thematic Catalogue Online (sscm-jscm.org)), hosted by the Journal of Seventeenth Century Music. He has attached F numbers to all pieces attributed to Frescobaldi, published and unpublished, thought to have at least the potential of having been composed by him; for the most part, these F numbers are attached to pieces in Loreggian’s recording, though some have been missed out. Hammond hosts an annotated catalogue of all sources on his website (Girolamo Frescobaldi: An Extended Biography – Frederick Hammond, Bard College), using Silbiger’s F numbers. Between them, these two websites provide the information necessary to contextualise Loreggian’s achievement; the liner notes provide only basic information about the sources.

For those already familiar with the works of Frescobaldi, listening to this recording is at once a disorientating and stimulating experience. Much of the language is familiar and sometimes whole sections are recognisable, but pieces are curtailed, go off in different directions, or use the basic building blocks in an altered way. It is fun speculating whether this or that piece is really by the composer. Above all, the recording provides a crucial insight into the workshop of Frescobaldi, his pupils and followers, and the raw material from which his published pieces emerged fully varnished. There are few surprises here: all the standard genres are found, with lots of random dance movements in particular. There are also sets of partite on familiar themes as well as canzonas, ricercars and toccatas. Some of these last are thought to be late works by Frescobaldi, but might also be by his pupils: they are certainly very accomplished. In particular, a set of three toccatas copied by the musician and engraver Nicolò Borbone in Ms. Chigi Q IV 25, and eleven canzonas also copied by Borbone and now in British Library Add. Ms. 40080, are well worth listening to. There are plenty of other gems too. At the other end of the scale, some pieces are extremely cursory, lasting less than a minute in some cases. Pieces seem to have been ordered by choice of instrument, rather than according to any particular criteria, with no attempt to single out the exceptional from the merely ordinary.

Loreggian has done a very impressive job, taking the pieces equally seriously, and giving them all the same level of attention. He plays on two organs: that built in 1565 by Graziadio Antegnati for the Cappella Palatina in Mantua’s Ducal Palace, and one made by Zanin Organi in 1998 for the Chiesa di S. Caterina in Treviso. He also plays on two modern copies of 17th-century Italian harpsichords by F. Gazzola and L. Patella. All work very well for their chosen pieces and are sensitively registered; recording quality is excellent throughout. There is one surprise in the registration, but I won’t spoil the fun by revealing it! Loreggian has a real gift for making the music sound as if he is improvising it – it is easy to imagine Frescobaldi himself in the room with the listener. As a performer, he is steeped in the musical language of the period and responds with great fluency to the changing declamatory rhythms and affective figures so typical of the composer and his milieu. He is to be congratulated for making all of this music, warts and all, available to listeners. This is a collection to dip into repeatedly for rewarding insights and is a very welcome addition to Frescobaldi discography.

Noel O’Regan

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Recording

Eredità Galanti

Alberto Gaspardo organ
56:40
Barcode 8 05571 5 60000 9
SFB Records 002

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Like so many other musicians in the early 18th century, the Venetian-born Giovanni Battista Pescetti found his way to London in search of a career. The fact that he wrote so extensively for keyboard takes us back to his ancestry, and specifically his father Giaconto Pescetti, who was custodian of the organs in San Marco, and a famous builder of organs. One of the many delights of this CD is that the son’s music is played on an instrument built by the father. As the title of the CD suggests, Pescetti’s music is predominantly in the galant style, and as the excellent programme note points out his cantabile movements are particularly charming. The Pescetti organ in the Chiesa di S. Giacomo Apostolo in Polcenigo offers a pleasing range of stops, of which the organist Alberto Gaspardo makes full use. The decision to complete the programme with works by two composers born in 1991, Roberto Squillaci and Nathan Mondry, may have proved risky, except that the two young composers are clearly well-versed in Pescetti’s music and seem to be commenting on the galant style – while the latter is writing a form of pastiche, the former has a more pungent, angular response to Pescetti’s sound-world. Compared to the organ music of the Baroque and the Romatic eras. galant organ music of the 18th century is often overlooked, and it is a genuine delight to hear a programme like this, imaginatively and musically presented, and including modern works which comment so intelligently and sympathetically on the earlier repertoire.

D. James Ross

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Recording

The Myth of Venice

16th-century music for cornetto & keyboards
Gawain Glenton, Silas Wollston
61:50
Delphian DCD34261

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The opening two pieces of this disc announce one of the primary tensions between musical schools of this era. The foremost theorists at the time were typically the organists, drawn to music’s formalities, whereas the soloists were wont to indulge their flights of fancy, with more attention to drama and personality. Andrea Gabrieli, one of the first organists at St Mark’s, provides the introduction: his formally structured ricercar, whose second voice, here on cornett, enters en point, continuing to pirouette lightly, using all the stage space available. Meanwhile, the formal organ continues to provide a tactus to set your watch to, in and out of the changes in mensuration. After this little delight, we turn to the founding father of the Venetian tradition, Adrian Willaert, whose beautiful arrangement of the chanson Jouissance de donneray, has to fight its way out of a briar of notes provided by Dalla Casa, perhaps the most self-indulgent of all cornettists at the time. These lines delineated, we proceed to an exploration of what lies between. We enjoy Glenton’s diminutions on Willaert’s A la Fontaine, using Ganassi’s thesis La fontegara, which add his sense of asymmetry, and hence freedom beyond his contemporaries. The effects of timbres are explored imaginatively. Between the dense and gently tremulous metal trebles of organ pipework, steals a mute cornett in Parabosco’s ricercar – offering a discreet and steady hand – da Pace. Diruta’s ricercar has a beautiful simplicity and grace, provided by a broad-sounding mute cornett and organo di legno. The organ playing throughout is marvellously seamless, with the most sparing and judicious lingerings and details of articulation that make the extended toccatas particularly engaging. The disc finishes with a selection of pieces instrumentally conceived from the off, and so into which the divisions slot comfortably – including a couple of premieres by Gorzanis. I am now looking forward to more discs from these players.

Stephen Cassidy

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Recording

French connections

Jonathan Rhodes Lee harpsichord
No timing information found
Navona Records NV6389

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This might be described as a ‘budget release’: the disc is in a cardboard sleeve with just a single sheet of supporting information in tiny print. Nonetheless, the necessarily concise essay puts the music in its context and explains the rationale behind the programme (Couperin>another Couperin including La Forqueray>Forqueray including La Rameau, but whom we do not hear). I like this kind of thinking and it does produce an interesting recital on an instrument of well-deployed rich colours. The playing is crisp and clean with clear phrasing, though I have to say I did find it inclined to the deliberate side. But as a condensed survey of the claveçinistes c1650-c1750 it does a good job.

David Hansell

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Dessiner les passions

Andreas Gilger harpsichord
74:32
Genuin GEN 22768

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To begin with, I think I should highlight this comparatively rare opportunity to hear a 17th century-style harpsichord (a meticulous copy of a 1681 Vaudry at A400), as opposed to the c1750 Franco-Flemish monsters we often hear even in this earlier music. They are marvellous, of course, but here there is a delicate ‘edginess’ to this timbre which I rather liked. There’s plenty of colour, though, and we do hear it all.

In the booklet (in English and German) the artist gives an account of his background thinking, tells us about the instrument and recording venue but leaves us high and dry with regards to the music. Surely at least the less well-known Du Mont and Geoffroy need a bit of an intro? In this chronologically focussed survey they rub shoulders with D’Anglebert, Chambonnières and L Couperin – the world of the 17th century claveçinistes, both printed and manuscript sources, in a nutshell.

I very much enjoyed this playing, which is both thoughtful and sparkling, with careful management of the style brisé idiom, the ornaments, the brief contrapuntal passages and the dance-based structures. At this time these can still embrace a pavane (curiously familiar and harmonically arresting) and a galliarde, though not as a pair or even by the same composer.

But ma fin est mon commencement, as an earlier age had it. The instrument is the star.

David Hansell

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Recording

William Byrd: Keyboard Music

Friederike Chylek harpsichord
57:02
Oehms Classics OC 1724

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While listening to this excellent disc, it occurred to me that Friederike Chylek would be the ideal harpsichordist to make another recording of Byrd’s complete keyboard music, a successor and alternative to Davitt Moroney’s boxed set from 1999 (Hyperion CDS 44461-7, reissued 2010). The baker’s dozen of pieces selected here are varied in genre and structure, and in technical and interpretive demands. By now most of these pieces have achieved more than one recording, but it is good to hear less familiar items such as The Irish march, extracted from its home in The battle, and the will o’ the wisp Wilson’s wild amongst the mighty Second ground and the pioneering virtuoso Prelude and Fantasia. One of the finest of the great Nevell pavan and galliard pairs, the Fifth, appears in company with two of Byrd’s most familiar song variations, Sellinger’s round and The carman’s whistle. The programme is completed by two almans – BK 89 (T 437) and The queen’s alman – and is topped and tailed by The Earl of Oxford’s march, and Tregian’s ground aka Hugh Ashton’s ground. The use here of the former title indicates that Ms Chylek is playing the version in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (FVB), which was compiled by Francis Tregian, and not the version in My Lady Nevell’s Book which uses the alternative title; she also defers to the FVB version of the Prelude and Fantasia rather than that left in another manuscript by Byrd’s pupil Thomas Tomkins.

Ms Chylek has made two previous recordings which feature Byrd’s music to a greater or lesser extent: Time stands still (OC 1864 – my review posted in EMR 7 February 2017) and From Byrd to Byrd (OC 1702). I reviewed both of them favourably, noting that she has a unique feel for the English virginalists in general, and for Byrd in particular.

Among discs devoted to Byrd’s keyboard music, this current recording is among the very finest. Her interpretations are penetrating but not quirky, profound but not distracting. This transcendence is best illustrated in Tregian’s ground which, at 8’30, is one of Byrd’s longest keyboard works. The triple time of Byrd’s chosen ground is sustained unassertively but irresistibly while Byrd’s remarkable ruminations continue above and around it. There have been several recordings of this magnificent piece, and a number of performers treat it as a virtuoso work to display their techniques. This works perfectly well, and the music can withstand it. Ms Chylek takes a more contemplative, less frenetic view, so that every aspect of Byrd’s counterpoint and harmony is clearly audible, while the passion of Byrd’s creation still shines through. Her interpretation – and this is the case with every track – is seemingly not so much aimed at exhibiting her own formidable technique, but rather, is placed at the service of the composer and what Byrd himself seeks to express through his music. This is no criticism of other more flamboyant performances, but it is the key to what gives this recording its unique character, which in turn elevates it to such a high level of achievement. She uses a modern copy of a Ruckers from 1624, and her playing on it provides ideal listening: stimulating to the intellect, and delightful for recreation.

Richard Turbet

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Händel vs Scarlatti

Cristiano Gaudio harpsichord
71:00
encelade ECL2003

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This disc ostensibly recreates the reputed keyboard competition hosted by Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome in 1709 between Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, both 24 years of age at the time. Reportedly, Scarlatti won the harpsichord leg while Handel excelled on the organ. I say ostensibly, because we do not know what music either composer might have performed, and any reconstruction is at best very tentative: it is more than likely that both composers improvised their contributions to fit the occasion. Scarlatti’s sonatas are difficult to date and choosing ‘early’ ones is tricky. Gaudio gives us ten, including some not so often recorded, which between them certainly give a good indication of the sort of music which the composer might have improvised as a young man in Rome. They do show the composer’s Italian side, less influenced by Iberian music than much of his output.

When it comes to Handel, Gaudio relies firstly on the Suite in F HWV 427 which, as well as having been published by Walsh in 1720, survives in an earlier Neapolitan manscript and shows strong Italianate influence. He also includes four toccatas from a Bergamo manuscript, which seem very unlikely to have been by Handel at all. The track listings say ‘Georg Friedrich Händel, attr. William Babell’ but there is no discussion whatsoever, in the extensive liner notes, of the manscript or its complications. In a 2018 article in Early Music, Andrew Woolley convincingly showed that these toccatas are by Babell, while perhaps reflecting the close collaboration between him and Handel during the 1710s. The fact that they are most likely not by Handel does not entirely rule out their appropriateness to the purpose of this CD. The mixture of German and Italian characteristics actually make them plausible examples of the sort of music Handel might have improvised in Rome – not the Handel of the printed Suites, or his only authenticated Toccata (HWV 586), but earlier Handel. In any case they are good pieces and well worth recording. There is also the more solidly Handelian Chaconne HWV435 (though without the introductory two-line melody and bass from the early 1706 manuscript) and, as a bonus at the end, Gaudio’s own transcription of the opening Adagio from the Sonata for Violin HWV372 (though authorship of this piece, too, is disputed). The 24-year-old Gaudio’s playing is exciting and very clearly articulated, with a strong sense of forward propulsion. It is the approach of a young man, excited by the potential of the instrument and of the musical template and, as such, highly appropriate to this project. He plays on a Mietke copy by Bruce Kennedy and an Italian-style harpsichord by the same maker, mixing and matching between the composers on each instrument. Recording quality is excellent, with a generous acoustic and a bell-like quality to the sound. It is a worthwhile and highly satisfying recording which can be well recommended.

Noel O’Regan

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John Bull: In nomine | Walsingham

Léon Berben organ
76:45
Lanvellec Editions LE00005
https://www.festival-lanvellec.fr/accueil/boutique

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The Robert Dallam organ in the Church of Saint-Brandan in Lanvellec, Brittany, is a unique survival, built while the maker was in exile in Brittany during the English Civil War. Most of the original pipework survives and the instrument was restored to something close to its original condition in the mid-1980s. It is a real treat to hear it in this recital of John Bull’s music by the Dutch organist Léon Berben. It has great clarity, well captured in this recording, with a rich sound and a good variety of registrational possibilities. Some stops come close to the sound of the musette or bagpipe and are put to good use in pointing up the more earthy elements in Bull’s music. Most of the disc is taken up with the composer’s eleven authenticated In nomine settings. These show great variety of compositional techniques, combining a strict harmonic framework (based on part of a melody from the Benedictus of a John Taverner Mass) with repeated figurative writing. The improvisatory basis of this writing is brought out particularly well by Berben, who also enjoys the frequent changes of metre. He rises to the virtuosic challenges caused by the shortening of note values as these pieces reach their conclusion, and always manages to stop repetitions from becoming boring – something not always easy in Bull’s music. At the core of this programme is Bull’s set of thirty variations on the ‘Walsingham’ tune, a great tour de force of late Elizabethan keyboard writing which takes almost twenty minutes here. It shows off the full range of the organ’s registers as well as Berben’s control of the instrument. A couple of fantasias on Palestrina’s madrigal Vestiva i colli and a few other short pieces completes the disc. There are excellent sleeve notes by Berben and Jon Baxendale. This is a stimulating and enjoyable presentation of some of the best of Bull’s music and can be thoroughly recommended.

Noel O’Regan

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Graupner: Complete Harpsichord Music

Fernando De Luca harpsichord
14 CDs in a card box
Brilliant Classics 96131

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At the famous audition process to choose a new Cantor for Leipzig’s Thomaskirche in 1722-3 Christoph Graupner was second choice (after Telemann) but could not obtain leave from his employer at the court of Hesse-Darmstadt and so made way for J. S. Bach. In that context it is thought-provoking to listen through the nearly fifty partitas which make up almost all of Graupner’s surviving keyboard music, recorded here by Fernando De Luca. The only other pieces here are a single short Prelude and Fugue, and an Aria with one variation. Less than half of the Partitas were published during Graupner’s lifetime, the rest surviving in manuscript in Darmstadt. All are attractive works, rich with musical ideas, but ultimately going over the same ground again and again and tending to rely on repeating trusted formulae. They seem to illustrate Andrew McCredie’s comment in the New Grove article on the composer: ‘working on a modest scale, [Graupner] was regarded more for the originality of his ideas than for their working out’. It is as if Bach continued to churn out French Suites and almost nothing else. Might a move to Leipzig have meant a different outcome for Graupner? We will never know. He was certainly amazingly prolific in Darmstadt, with over fourteen hundred cantatas and lots of other works surviving. Like Telemann, musical ideas flowed freely from his fingers and pen. The most extended of his partitas are a set of twelve named after the months of the year, each with from six to ten movements, headed by Preludes which can take a variety of forms, and continuing with the usual standard dances and various galanterien. In other suites the Allemande fulfils something of the function of an opening prelude.

This 14-CD collection is a monumental enterprise for De Luca who seems to relish such challenges.  Together with Marco da Gregorio he runs a website ‘Sala del Cembalo del caro Sassone’ which contains a whole host of recordings of keyboard music by many different composers, all recorded by De Luca.  He is clearly used to big projects and able to learn music quickly. His playing is consistent and faithful to the score, though perhaps motivated more by a desire to leave a firmly mainstream account of the works than to let in any sense of playfulness or experimentation. Fast movements can be exciting, particularly some of the Gigues; slower movements can be a bit heavy-handed and would have benefitted from some more subtlety in execution at times, though there are some fine moments and a judicious use of ornamentation on repeats. He plays on two instruments: a copy of a Blanchet (1754) by C. Caponi and copy of a Christian Vater (1738) by F. Ciocca, both of which provide opportunities for variety of registration and are pleasingly recorded. There is only very slight information in the accompanying booklet – movement lists are only found on individual CD covers; a short essay deals only in generalities with nothing much on individual partitas. The numbering follows that of the Graupner Werkverzeichnis (GWV). (Incidentally, GWV online is a mine of information about the composer and his output, editions and performances of this works.) There is much to admire about this recording project, and it is certainly very useful to have all of Graupner’s authenticated keyboard music available in one place. Listeners will want to dip in and out, perhaps taking one partita at a time, admiring both Graupner’s and De Luca’s facility and being rewarded with some attractive music confidently delivered.

Noel O’Regan