Frescobaldi Toccatas & Partitas

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COMPOSERS: Girolamo Frescobaldi
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Frescobaldi Toccatas & Partitas
WORKS: Toccatas & Partitas
PERFORMER: Fabio Bonizzoni (harpsichord & organ)
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921514

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It was Girolamo Frescobaldi who unleashed the keyboard’s potential to turn human passion into purely instrumental sound: Bach and Liszt are his direct descendants. The Italian composer’s precocity led him into wild terrain, later called stylus fantasticus. ‘Fantastic’ here refers to the sublimation of all music’s aspects – composition, performance technique, instrument‑building – to expression. The two collections of toccatas and partitas featured in this recording are mountains scaled only by those with virtuosity, imagination, historical grasp and, most crucially, daring. Others have tried – notably Roberto Loreggian – but few have succeeded like Fabio Bonizzoni.

Bonizzoni can take risks where others can’t, owing to the brilliance of his musicianship matched with intellect that plumbs the depths of the score. As the liner notes explain, Bonizzoni based his choice of harpsichord and organ on the demands of Frescobaldi’s music. He aggressively exploits the composer’s startling colours, short decay, contrasts of register and nimble action of his keyboards, shaping and shading the gestures throughout. Opening flourishes are commanding and beguiling; contrapuntal relations are gorgeously illuminated; and rhapsodic, wayward musings make the listener want to grin, weep and gape in wonder. Particularly attractive is how he creates an aura around independent passages as they coalesce slowly into an emotional affect, which then suddenly dissolves.

Sound production is of the highest standard, turning to advantage the quirky acoustics of the 13th-century abbey where this recording was made. It’s a benchmark disc, fusing intellectual rigour with soulful expression.

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Berta Joncus