Sunday, February 24, 2008

Froberger Fantasias

I have awaited Bob van Asperen's newest Froberger CD with great expectations. Not only I: it seems that searches for "Froberger" are a consistent draw to this blog, and I have received more messages in regards to my comments on van Asperen's recording than any other single subject. It remains a mystery as to why Volume 1 is so difficult to get in the U.S.; it is available through amazon.fr via a company in Miami, Florida, but not directly here in the U.S. Go, figure! Fortunately, Volume 5 is readily available.

This is an all-organ program that includes the complete Fantasias, complete Canzonas, and several of the Toccatas. What, you may ask, is the difference between these three forms? Reading up on Grove Online provides little illumination. The CD notes observe that 'No clear demarcation between them as been achieved...' and one would be hard-pressed to differentiate between a fantasia from a canzona simply by listening to them: both are fugal in nature, although the canzona seems to be slightly more rigorous. All three are much more exercises in counterpoint than the partitas (or suites), which are clearly inspired by the French lute style. As a result, the program on the recording is dense going; I find it helps to appreciate the music more by following the score; most of the pieces are from the Libro Secondo (1649), covered by the Rampe/Bärenreiter first volume, or the considerably less expensive Dover edition ($74 versus $17!)

The organ recorded is the Cipri Organ of S. Martino in Bologna, Italy. It was first built in 1556, pre-dating Froberger by fifty years, but has gone through multiple enhancements and restorations. It appears to be a relatively smallish organ, tuned in mean-tone, although the notes don't specify what kind of mean-tone. This is a topic of relevance, as much of this music often pushes the tonality, in Froberger's unique style, exploiting the "color" of the temperament. I have conflicting passions on this, loving the resulting color, but also missing the "purity" of more equal temperaments. I fear my modern ears have grown too accustomed to the consistent impurity of well temperaments. Let's just say I like it both ways, and this organ is full of color.

As I have confessed before, I don't consider myself any kind of authority on organ playing. However, it seems that van Asperen is often imprecise in his meter and makes little use of articulation. As a result, I often find it difficult to follow the voices, even with score in hand. By comparison, Rampe's organ playing seems to be tighter and more clear, but lacks the overall warmth of van Asperen. Also, as on his harpsichord recordings, there is very little additional embellishment. This is not to say that I don't enjoy the recording, but I am now more eager to hear how another organist would approach this remarkable music.

Like Volume 4, it is recorded in hybrid SACD format; I'm trying to figure out if I will ever care, as SACD players are still scarce and relatively expensive. Fortunately, the hybrid format supports both traditional CD and the higher resolution SACD, literally on different layers of the CD. Regardless of format, the Aeolus recordings all seem to have exceptional sound.

While van Asperen working towards recording all of Froberger, Richard Egarr has already recorded everything in four volumes, for a total of eight CDs. I haven't heard a whisper from anyone on this set, which has been out for several years.