Frescobaldi: Fantasie, Bk 1; Ricercari; Canzoni francesi

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COMPOSERS: Frescobaldi
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Fantasie, Bk 1; Ricercari; Canzoni francesi
PERFORMER: Sergio Vartolo (harpsichord, organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553547-48
Vartolo ends his collected recording of Frescobaldi’s complete published keyboard works with the earliest, the Fantasie of 1608, and the Ricercari and Canzoni that appeared seven years later. The music, though, is full of invention and imagination. The series of 12 Fantasie begins spaciously before winding up the tension in a dense complex of melodic fragments, working out progressively more subject ideas – one only for the first three pieces, four for the last. Vartolo plays nine on a bright-sounding modern copy of an Italian harpsichord where I rather tired of his habit of searching for every expressive nuance, holding back, spreading impassioned chords, lingering on a rhetorical point. The three on the organ move more convincingly.

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The Ricercari are similarly flexed, the first poised in narcissistic contemplation, the seventh played with a quite elusive pulse. The newly restored organ of Spirito Santo in Pistoia makes a fine sound. In the Italian tradition, though built by a Netherlander, it builds up colours from minimal foundation tone, with dazzling arrays of artificial harmonics – mixtures and mutations – creating a sparkling, sometimes acidic, yet always transparent tone. I greatly enjoyed the organ Canzoni, simple sectional pieces capitalising on a kaleidoscope of timbres – including a startling flock of starlings – believe me! George Pratt