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Alison DeSimone
Early Music, December 2009

Folts plays on a single manual Italian harpsichord…an instrument with a sweet, clear tone that, as restorer Keith Hill says in the notes, “helps us recognize what is happening in the music as each note, even in the most complicated polyphony, utters its unique voice distinctly and unequivocally,” I found the toccatas to be Folts’s strongest performances. Her playing is flexible and fluid, and she takes advantage of the instrument’s expressive resources.

…this disc is a great introduction to the works of Frescobaldi. From humor to pathos this music covers a gamut of affects that defines early Baroque keyboard music and hints at the profound influence Frescobaldi’s music had on his successors.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, April 2009

Frescobaldi occupies a position of particular importance in the history of keyboard music. Famously precocious as an organist—and, indeed, as a singer—he was the subject of encomiastic poems while still in his early teens and seems to have made tours of Italy rather in the later vein of the young Mozart. He was a student of Luzzasco Luzzaschi, organist to the duke of Ferrara; soon he was working in Rome and he went on to hold important posts there, as well as in Flanders, Mantua and Florence. His own pupils included, at one time or another, Luigi Battiferri, Francesco Muti, Valerio Spada and Jakob Johann Froberger.

Frescobaldi’s writing for keyboard—which is outstanding in the period in terms both of its quality and its surviving bulk—is grounded in the traditions of counterpoint well established at the Ferrarese court and, no doubt, inculcated by his studies with Luzzaschi. But he continued to grow and innovate throughout his career. His music incorporated and synthesised many other influences, not least those of contemporary vocal music, at both popular and sophisticated levels. Its own influence on later composers for the keyboard was immense.

The present CD assembles materials not published during Frescobaldi’s lifetime, which were gathered, under the title Keyboard Compositions Preserved in Manuscripts by W.R. Shindle (1968), drawing on three manuscripts in the library of the Vatican as well as manuscripts in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin, the British Library in London and the Staatbibliotek in Berlin—manuscripts which appear to belong to the years between 1630 and 1650. Though these works may not have been published by Frescobaldi, they are far from being mere leftovers. Many of them are striking compositions and they benefit here from the attentions of a fine performer making use of an instrument well suited to the music.

Martha Folts here plays an instrument made by Jerome de Zentis in Rome in 1658—and, incidentally, richly decorated—which was owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from the 1880s until sold in recent years. After its sale by the museum, the instrument was restored by Keith Hill who contributes a note on the instrument to the CD booklet. It sounds as exquisitely handsome as it looks, and Martha Folts makes full and expressive use of the considerable musical resources it offers her.

In her booklet notes, Folts draws attention to the preface of one of Frescobaldi’s 1615 publications, his Primo libro di toccate, where the composer says that the player of his works should approach them with the new madrigal style in mind—that is, solo song with instrumental accompaniment. In Folt’s words, “this new style was characterized by flexibility of tempo, a variety of affetti (embellishments) and uneven treatment of the rhythm, all with the purpose of interpreting the text with more soul”. Folts’ own playing on this CD certainly takes up Frescobaldi’s invitation; she interprets the notes on the page with an always intelligent freedom and the music consistently comes across with brilliance and expressiveness. Unafraid of strong contrasts of tempo, there is at times an almost improvisational air to some of Folts’ playing. As I made notes on repeated hearings, my list of individual pieces which I found particularly enjoyable grew so extensive as to incorporate almost everything on the CD! If you like—as you should!—interpretations of Frescobaldi’s keyboard writing which do justice to the vitality of his inventiveness, which communicate a vitalised and vitalising energy—and which are well recorded—you need look no further than this outstanding CD.

Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, December 2008

Martha Folds presents keyboard pieces from several manuscripts in an interpretation based on the performing principles laid down by Frescobaldi. Her playing is captivating and expressive and she uses a splendid historical instrument. Music, instrument and performer are a winning combination here. It has resulted in a quite spectacular recording, which should not be missed. © 2008 MusicWeb International

American Record Guide, August 2008

Martha Folts offers pieces by Frescobaldi that were not printed in his lifetime. She plays beautifully with a great deal of flexibility. Her rubato extends beyond acceleration and deceleration to include allowing the hands to play without true vertical alignment. The instrument she plays—built by Jerome de Zentis in 1658 and restored by Keith Hill—is exquisite. This recording is a must for any fan of Frescobaldi.

Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, July 2008

There are many available recordings with keyboard music by Frescobaldi. That is understandable, as his music not only belongs to the very best of what was composed in 17th century Italy, but also had a lasting influence on the further development of keyboard music across Europe. Frescobaldi had many students from Italy and abroad, and they copied his music and spread it over the Continent. In addition their own works show the strong influence of Frescobaldi’s style. Johann Jacob Froberger is the most famous example. A pretty large number of collections with Frescobaldi’s music were published during his lifetime. Most recordings focus on one or more of these collections. The peculiarity of this recording is that it presents pieces which were never published and reside in museums and archives, for instance in Turin, Munich, Berlin and London.

The programme shows the different forms Frescobaldi made use of, in particular the toccata which was one of the main sources of his influence. In addition we find a dance form (corrente), canzonas and ricercares—both derived from vocal music—, ‘partite’ (variations on a subject) and free forms like the fantasia and the capriccio. These pieces are grouped in such a way that maximum variety is guaranteed.

Not that there is any danger of being bored. The music in itself is good enough to prevent this, but there are two other factors which should hold the listener’s attention.

First of all, the harpsichord. This is a very special instrument, which dates from 1658 and has been in the property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which acquired it in the 1880s. Despite – or due to – attempts to restore it the harpsichord was in rather bad condition when the museum decided to sell it. When harpsichord-maker Keith Hill got the opportunity to study the instrument more carefully he was very impressed by its quality. He concluded that it was the work of a “genius musical instrument maker”. On his website he describes the instrument and how he has restored it into playable condition. The result is nothing but spectacular. According to Keith Hill “every piece in the instrument is acoustically enhanced to optimize its sounding properties”. And that makes this instrument unique, as this disc demonstrates. The sonority of this harpsichord is remarkable. In particular the low notes have a very strong sound. The range of colours this instrument is able to produce is something one doesn’t hear very often in harpsichords.

But an instrument alone does not make a good recording. This instrument has been used previously in a recording by Elizabeth Farr with music by Peter Philips [8.557864]. But it didn’t make any lasting impression on me as it does here. The reason could be that this instrument isn’t the most appropriate for Philips’ music. But it is probably first and foremost due to the interpretation: in contrast to MusicWeb’s reviewer of this recording I found it very unsatisfactory. Comparing the way the same harpsichord is used, its full qualities come much better to the fore under the hands of Martha Folds.

She tries to realise the performing principles which Frescobaldi has laid down. These are strongly influenced by the vocal style of the time, which originated from Giulio Caccini. One of the main aspects of this performance practice is the freedom of rhythm and tempo. “Describing the ‘new style’, Frescobaldi states that the manner of playing must not remain subject to a beat (…), letting the tempo reflect the mood or ‘Affect’ of the music or text”, Martha Folts writes in the booklet. Frescobaldi requires the beginnings of toccatas to be played slowly and arpeggiated, which can be compared to the crescendo a singer uses. Ornaments should also be added according to the ‘Affect’. Frescobaldi’s indications lead to a performance “with a kind of nonchalance which projects ease, relaxation, non-intensity, and yet a focused, intentional presence to the performance”.

This approach, “allowing the music to sound as vocally oriented as possible”, shows to be very fruitful in this recording. Listening to Martha Folts’ interpretation it is not difficult to understand why musicians all over Europe travelled to Rome to study with Frescobaldi and were deeply influenced by his style. Ms Folts’ playing is brilliant and always captivating and expressive. Thanks to the mean-tone temperament the sometimes harsh dissonances have a maximum effect, for instance in the Toccatas in e minor (track 10) and in F (track 20) or in the Fantasia in E (track 17).

Music, instrument and performer are a winning combination here. It has resulted in a quite spectacular recording, which should not be missed. © 2008 MusicWeb International

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

The first thing you will notice is the distinctly unique sound of this harpsichord dating from 1658 and faithfully restored three years ago by Keith Hill. It was made by Jerome de Zentis, an Italian who travelled through Europe making instruments for the wealthy, including many royal families. Why he became so famous is obvious when listening to the very individual qualities that the instrument has to offer, the resonance creating the feel of a sustaining pedal, yet it has such clarity that the fast passages never become tonally blurred. The tuning will strike you as odd as the interval between notes is not that to which modern ears have become accustomed. Does it go slightly out of tune as the recording progressed or is it just my ears? It is, of course, very appropriate to Italy’s foremost composer of keyboard music in the early 17th century, Girolamo Frescobaldi. The present disc is devoted to works that never appeared under his name, but has survived in manuscript form and generally accepted to be from his hand. Whether they were from his younger years and thought unworthy of publication, or whether they were simply teaching pieces for his pupils is unclear. Whatever their use, the mixture of pungent Toccatas with Caprices, Ricercare and Correntes makes for a most interesting disc. Maybe the melodic material was not of the quality to create master works, but try track 8, a Toccata in C major, as a sample of the many delights. It is played by Martha Folts, a product of the University of Michigan who has specialised in Baroque, her major career established in the United States. A very lucid practitioner who moves around the keyboard with an elegant ease, she makes a good case for the music. The instrument is recorded quite close, and either one note is in difficulty, or it is catching the microphone. Other than that it is a good honest product that will give considerable pleasure.

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