Girolamo Frescobaldi has been one of the most influential composers in the history of Western music. Through his many pupils he influenced keyboard playing and composing throughout Europe. Even Johann Sebastian Bach copied some of his works. Therefore it is quite surprising that - as far as I know - no complete recording of his oeuvre has been released. This year (2010) Brilliant Classics has started a Frescobaldi Edition, which is going to be one of the most important projects in the label's history.
Many of Frescobaldi's works for keyboard are played and included in recordings. But some parts of his oeuvre are largely neglected like the instrumental canzonas and his vocal music. The amount of sacred music in Frescobaldi's oeuvre is rather small: only one collection of motets for one to four voices and basso continuo was published in 1627. There are some motets which were included in collections of pieces by various composers. And then there are the two masses which Sergio Balestracci recorded in Volume 3 of the Frescobaldi Edition.
These masses have been preserved in a single manuscript in the library of the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. On the organ part of the first of these two masses one finds the letters G. F.di
. This has led to these masses being attributed to Frescobaldi. Although their authenticity can't be established with absolute certainty, most scholars believe they were indeed composed by Frescobaldi. It was a good decision to include them in this project since they are of fine quality and give a good picture of the kind of liturgical music which was composed during Frescobaldi's life.
They reflect common practice in Rome in that they are scored for eight voices in two choirs. The two choirs are used to create antiphonal effects. Sometimes they alternate in singing the various verses of the mass, sometimes the one choir repeats a phrase of the other. At some moments they join to underline important passages and in other instances only one choir sings, for instance in 'Et incarnatus est' and 'Crucifixus' in the Credo. In both masses the Benedictus and the second Agnus Dei are left out; these are sung here in plainchant. Both masses are extended by plainchant settings of parts of the Proper of the Mass. In the Missa sopra l'aria della Monica
the Introitus, Offertorio and Communion from the Mass for the Virgin Mary are added, whereas in the Missa sopra l'aria di Fiorenza
the additional chants are taken from the Mass of St John the Baptist.
Both masses are based on tunes which were quite popular at the time. The aria della Monica
was a secular song, and quite often used for keyboard variations and instrumental compositions. The aria di Fiorenza
is also known as Ballo del Granduca
, and was first composed as the song O che nuovo miracolo
by Emilio de' Cavalieri. This was included in the Intermedii
which were performed at the wedding of Grand-Duke Ferdinando I and Christine of Lorraine in 1589. This tune was also often used, for instance by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.
La Stagione Armonico consists of 28 singers, divided over the two choirs. Although I would have preferred a slighter smaller ensemble, the sound is quite transparent. Furthermore the singing is outstanding, and the choir shows great rhythmic vitality. The two vocal groups are audibly split, but fortunately they haven't been put too far away from each other. The plainchant is also beautifully sung, and as a result this disc can be unequivocally recommended.
The three masses which are recorded as Volume 4 of this series are of a different kind. They are quite well-known and available in several recordings. Pieces from these masses are also often played in concerts and included in recordings. That is especially the case with the Toccatas, like the Toccata per le levatione
, which appear in all three masses.
The three organ masses belong to the category of liturgical music which makes use of the alternatim
practice. Its roots are in the antiphonal psalmody, and from that perspective they are not that far away from the masses which are performed in Volume 3. Verses could alternatively be sung in plainchant and polyphonically, or sung and played. That is the case here: Frescobaldi offers organ verses to be performed in alternation with voices. He doesn't provide a complete liturgy, though: the largest part of every Mass consists of verses for the Kyrie. But he goes a long way to serve organists: although in an alternatim
performance of the Mass only five versets for Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison are needed, he offers the full set of nine, giving performers a maximum choice for whatever they needed. The other organ versets are called Kyrie alio modo
and Christe alio modo
. Here they are performed after the liturgically 'correct' sequence of plainchant and organ versets.
Other pieces are a Canzona dopo l'Epistola
, to be played after the first reading from the Scriptures, and a Recercar post (dopo) il Credo
, to be played after the Credo. Most famous are the Toccate per le levatione
, to be played during the consecration. Dissonances are an integral part of these pieces, which are to remember the congregation of Jesus' Passion. The Messa della Madonna
contains a special ricercar, called Recercar con obligo dicantar la quinta parte senza toccarla
. It means that an fifth part is added which should be sung without support of the organ. In his liner-notes Noel O'Regan writes: "Frescobaldi gives the singer a six-note phrase taken from the Litany of Loreto where it sets the words 'Sancta Maria'; he does not give these words in the print but it is clear that they are what is intended". In this recording the part is played on the natural trumpet, which is rather odd, although this is often practiced. It would have been nice if this part would have been sung as Frescobaldi has indicated. The Messa delli Apostoli
contains a comparable piece but here that part should be played at the organ.
These three masses are from the collection Fiori Musicali
, published in Venice in 1635. It also contains two pieces on secular tunes, Bergamasca
and Capriccio sopra la Girolmeta
. It is not quite clear why they are included. Noel O'Regan states that the former is taking the place of the canzon which concludes the other two masses. But that seems unlikely because of the secular subject. The capriccio is based on a tune whose name is the feminine version of Frescobaldi's own. O'Regan again sees this composition as a possible alternative to the concluding piece of this or one of the other masses.
Roberto Loreggian delivers very good performances. Many pieces are quite short, in particular the Kyrie and Christe settings, and they can appear quite short-winded. The fact that the are alternated by the appropriate plainchant helps to prevent that. The singing of the Schola Gregoriana is bright and clear. Of course, it would be nice to hear all pieces within the liturgical context for which they were intended. To my knowledge no such recording exists. So we have to be satisfied with this recording. The quality and variety of Frescobaldi's music and Roberto Loreggian's level of playing is such that that's no tall order.
If these two disc reflect the quality of this whole project we are in for a treat.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International