Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tombeau de Monsieur Blancheroche
. Suites: No. 2 in d; No. 12 in C; No. 13 in d; No. 14 in g; No. 19 in c. Toccatas: No. 2; No. 11; No. 19. Ricercar No. 7
Alina Rotaru (hpd)
CARPE DIEM 16290 (63:54)
Romanian harpsichordist Alina Rotaru made her solo debut on the Carpe Diem label in 2010 playing the music of Sweelinck—I gave the CD, titled
Fortune My Foe
, a rave review in
34:5. With an auspicious debut like that, one naturally wonders if the artist can deliver the goods a second time, and I’m happy to report that Rotaru has done so. The music of Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–67) is fertile ground indeed for aspiring harpsichordists, and Rotaru has chosen perhaps his best-known piece, the
Tombeau faît à Paris sur la mort de Monsieur Blancheroche,
to open the program. There is a somber, serious tone to much of Froberger’s music that sets him apart from the bulk of mid 17th-century keyboard music, and this is nowhere more evident than in the lament that Froberger wrote on the death of his close friend Charles Fleury, Sieure de Blancheroche. The six-minute piece ends with an abrupt descending C-Minor scale, a musical portrayal of the accident on a flight of stairs that took the life of the famous lutenist (who reportedly died in Froberger’s arms). Elsewhere, the four-movement suites (allemande, gigue, courante, sarabande—note the placement of the gigue) borrow heavily from the French idiom of composers such as Chambonnières and Louis Couperin, but go far beyond the merely decorative aspects of their music. Like the
, all of the suites recorded here (the C Major excepted) are inspired by actual events in the composer’s life. The G Minor, for example, is a musical depiction of an attack that Froberger suffered at the hands of soldiers while traveling from Brussels to Leuven in 1650. The three toccatas and one ricercar remind us of the close association Froberger had with the Italian composer Frescobaldi and how easily Froberger assimilated the Italian style and made it his own.
Rotaru’s playing is once again assured and authoritative; one hangs on every note as the musical narrative unfolds. She understands the gesture and rhetoric behind the music, which allows her to engage in a kind of conversation with the listener. Save perhaps for the occasional gigue, the music does not place extraordinary technical demands on the player; rather this is music that asks for the utmost in musical probity and intelligence. The performer must walk a fine line in Froberger, but Rotaru’s thoughtful keyboard work always lands squarely at the service of the music, and never veers into self-aggrandizement.
Because Froberger’s music is so cosmopolitan, many different national styles of harpsichord would have worked for this recording. I first encountered the 1632/1745 Ruckers harpsichord recorded here on a Bach recital of Christophe Rousset, reviewed in
34:6. The instrument is housed in a museum in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and has two manuals and three registers (8’, 8’, 4’). Like many 17th-century Flemish instruments, it was enlarged in France during the 18th century; this places it somewhat outside the temporal constraints for Froberger; a better choice might have been a 17th-century French instrument. The sound is fairly dark and weighty, yet with a slight metallic edge to the treble, all of which has the effect of reinforcing the dramatic qualities of the music, while downplaying the lyrical to some extent.
As with all Carpe Diem CDs in my experience, the engineering is exceedingly lifelike. The booklet includes an excellent essay by Wolfgang Kostujak, one of the leading experts on Froberger’s music. In all, a successful second effort from this up-and-coming artist, and highly recommended.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
Johann Jacob Froberger is one of the most popular composers among harpsichordists. His oeuvre is of a consistently high quality, and historically speaking he is a key figure in the development of keyboard music in the baroque era.
Froberger was born in 1616 in Stuttgart and received his first music lessons from his father, Basilius, who was a tenor in the ducal chapel and later became
Kapellmeister in 1621. One of the features of Froberger's keyboard music is the incorporation of the different styles of his time in his oeuvre. From an early age he became acquainted with the influences from various national styles, since musicians from Italy, France and England worked in the court chapel alongside Germans. Froberger's father seems to have had a personal preference for Italian music. That could well explain why his son moved to Vienna in order to seek employment in the imperial chapel which was dominated by Italian musicians. In 1637 he worked a short while as organist and then was granted leave to go to Rome to study with Girolamo Frescobaldi. He stayed there for three years, and this had a lasting influence on his own style of composing.
He returned to Vienna in 1641, where he acted as organist and chamber musician. In 1645 he went to Rome again, where he studied with the theorist Athanasius Kircher; Frescobaldi had died two years earlier. In 1649 he returned and remained in Vienna until 1657; he ended his service shortly after the death of his employer, Ferdinand III. In his honour he composed a
Lamentation. During his time in office he made several journeys as a performer, and visited Dresden, Paris and London. In Dresden he met Matthias Weckmann, with whom he became close friends. Through his contacts with the Dutch poet, playwright and diplomat Constantijn Huygens - who was also a great music-lover - he had already come into contact with French music, by the likes of Chambonnières and the Gaultiers, a harpsichordist and dynasty of lutenists respectively. In Paris he met Louis Couperin which was another important event in music history. It was through Froberger that Couperin became acquainted with the music of Frescobaldi. The
prélude non mesurée for which Louis Couperin has become famous was inspired by the improvisatory-style toccatas by the Roman master. In his turn Froberger took up several elements of the French style. Among them are the
tombeaus; one of the most famous of them is the
Tombeau sur la mort de monsieur Blancheroche which opens this disc. The latter was a lutenist whom Froberger had befriended while in Paris. He died in 1652 after falling down the stairs. This is vividly illustrated with a fast descending scale at the end of the piece. This piece is an example of Froberger expressing his personal feelings in his music as he did some years later in his laments on the death of Ferdinand III (1657) and his son Ferdinand IV (1654).
In his music Froberger blends elements of the German, Italian and French styles. In particular the toccatas show Frescobaldi's influence, and that should also affect the performance. He used to begin the toccatas in a slow tempo which was then followed by a fast section only to slow down again towards the end. It is here that we meet the
stylus phantasticus which was to have such a strong influence on European - and in particular German - music. The contrasts in Alina Rotaru's performance of the toccatas are quite strong, making them dramatic and compelling. It wasn't only music for instrumental ensemble or vocal music that was theatrical in character; that goes for keyboard repertoire as well. In Froberger's oeuvre we also find some pieces which are written in the
stile antico, dominated by counterpoint. Among them are the ricercari and the capriccios. One example is included in the present programme, the
Ricercar VII. Such pieces are often played at the organ, but Ms Rotaru shows that they come off equally well at the harpsichord.
The largest part of the programme comprises suites which connect Froberger's oeuvre to the French style. This is referred to as the
style luthé, the French style of composing for the lute - featuring measured arpeggios - which was adapted to the harpsichord. In the first autographs Froberger didn't organise the various dances into suites. Later he usually grouped allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue together. Interestingly he mostly put the gigue in second place, following the allemande. This seems to have been his personal preference, according to his friend Matthias Weckmann. With his suites Froberger was one of the pioneers of this form in Germany. The four dances have contrasting tempi which Ms Rotaru puts across convincingly. In the fast dances she usually takes a quite swift tempo.
These performances are generally characterised by fully exploration of the many contrasts in character and tempo in Froberger's oeuvre, either between different pieces or within compositions. Ms Rotaru opts for a quite theatrical style, as she immediately demonstrates in the opening
Tombeau: Blancheroche's falling down the stairs is depicted graphically, and even if you know the piece it comes as a surprise. She uses a beautiful historical instrument, built by Johannes Ruckers the Younger. It is dated 1632 and 1745, the latter being the year a reconstruction (
ravalement) was performed.
I have greatly enjoyed this disc. It has to be ranked among the best recordings of Froberger's music.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International Read less
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