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Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, June 2011

Some of the most important forms of keyboard music have their origin in the 16th century, in particular the prelude, the toccata and the fugue. In Italy, in the mid-16th century, crucial developments in keyboard composing took place. Among the composers who were responsible for the evolution of keyboard music was Andrea Gabrieli. For that reason a disc which is completely devoted to his keyboard oeuvre is of great importance. It also sheds light on a part of Gabrieli’s oeuvre which is not that well-known.

Andrea Gabrieli was born in Venice and was educated as an organist. In 1557 he applied for the position of organist of San Marco, as the successor to Girolamo Parabosco. He failed, and Claudio Merulo was appointed, who would then develop into one of the main musical personalities in Venice in the next 25 years. In the early 1560s Gabrieli came into contact with Orlandus Lassus. In 1562 Lassus’ employer, Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria, went to Frankfurt to attend the coronation of Emperor Maximilian II. In his retinue were both Lassus and Gabrieli. But his heart apparently was in Venice. In 1566 he was appointed as organist of San Marco—alongside Merulo—and he resisted an attempt by Lassus to make him return to Bavaria to enter the service of Duke Albrecht. Little is known about him as a person, but in his liner-notes Glen Wilson includes a quotation which suggests Gabrieli was a demanding teacher.

This disc presents a survey of the various genres in vogue at the time. It doesn’t include all genres to which Gabrieli contributed. Wilson has omitted that part of his oeuvre intended for the organ. Therefore the Intonazioni which were to be played before a vocal piece, indicating the pitch to the singers, are missing. Instead we get two preludes here, which also can be played at the organ. This kind of piece was originally improvised, and it doesn’t surprise me that they were mostly not printed. That’s certainly the case with the two played here which have both come down to us in manuscript. The other free form with improvisational origins is the toccata. Venice was the main centre of toccata writing, and Gabrieli played an important role in the development of this form. The two toccatas on this disc are in three contrasting sections.

The toccata has roots in the ricercar, one of the main forms of keyboard music at the time. Two types of ricercar are known in music history, the imitative and the non-imitative. The former is the kind of ricercar used in Italy and developed by Gabrieli into a piece on a single theme. In addition he deployed various techniques which were to become a standard part of the fugue in the baroque era, like inversion and diminution. Gabrieli also wrote ricercars on vocal subjects. The Ricercar sopra Pour un plaisir is an example; it is based on a chanson by Thomas Crecquillon. Here he only uses themes from this chanson, unlike in the canzonas on vocal models, like the Canzona Frais et gaillard, again on a chanson by Crecquillon. In this the upper voice of the vocal original is treated according to the diminution technique which was so popular in Italy. Part of it involves the breaking up of the longer notes in fast passages and the addition of ornaments. The madrigals Anchor che col partire by Cipriano de Rore and Io mi son giovinetta by Domenico Ferrabosco are treated the same way. Lastly Wilson plays two independent pieces, the Ricercar arioso and the Canzon ariosa which may have a vocal character but are not based on vocal models.

The interest of this programme lies in the range of forms on display here. Moreover Wilson has ordered the pieces in such a way that there is a maximum of variety. That is also due to the alternating use of two different instruments. Most pieces are performed on a harpsichord, but it is nice to hear a spinet as well, which was a common instrument but is not often used in recordings. Both instruments are built after Venetian models of the 16th century. “Their soft iron single-stringing produces a more vocal sound than that usually associated with later types of Italian harpsichords”, Glen Wilson states.

And he is right: the sound of the instruments suits the music very well. He is also an excellent guide through Gabrieli’s oeuvre, and brings out the idiosyncracies of his music convincingly. He plays brilliantly but never in an exhibitionist way. The tempi are well-chosen, and the counterpoint is allowed to blossom.

Nobody interested in early keyboard music should miss this disc.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, January 2011

Antonio Gabrieli’s expertise as a composer of sacred and secular vocal music (not to mention the spectacular antiphonal works of his nephew) have tended to overshadow the worth of his keyboard music. He was an important figure in the evolution of forms, especially the somber ricercar (the imitation-based ancestor of the fugue), and the imaginative toccata. His works in this vein emphasized both multiple voices and a rich drama, as the Toccata del decimo tuono and Toccata del nono tono heard on this recording suggest. It is a notable example of a style that owes much to the expressive extravagance of the Serene Republic in its later days, and to the composer’s ear for vocal textures. Other works, including the Canzon ariosa and the Capriccio sopra il Pass’ e mezzo antico, employ a contrapuntal wit and decorative finesse that would prove very popular among Elizabethan virginalists. Gabrieli was hardly a decisive influence in this, but his fame and compositions no doubt contributed to the considerable effect music from the Italian States had on England during that period.

Glen Wilson is hardly a newcomer to Fanfare, and this marks the fourth release of his that has shown up on my desk. His virtues remain what they have been over the years: a strong technique, a breadth of tempos that never descend into the meretricious, and a reasonable and stylistically informed method to ornamentation. As much can be said for his tendency to sober-sided playing, a matter of inflexible phrasing that denies the lightness and flowing grace of some of these pieces. The ricercars come off best, given their predominantly serious tone, though they, too, could benefit from more expressive articulation. The canzons and aforementioned capriccio fare worst.

As it happens, there’s little competition among easily available recordings—only Liuwe Tamminga performing a group of the ricercars on organ (Accent 10127), in a release I haven’t heard. So it’s this, or nothing; and it must be said that Wilson has shown time and again a discerning ear for excellent repertoire. Everything on this album holds up well, if without the distinguishing brilliance of keyboard composers from following generations such as Frescobaldi and Byrd.

The engineering is excellent, close with just enough room resonance to give body to the sound. Unfortunately, no notes are provided about the two instruments Wilson uses, other than to remark that the harpsichord and slightly lighter spinetta employ an A tuning of 392 Hz, and that both are based upon 16th-century Venetian originals.

In short, recommended, with reservations noted.

Benjamin Katz
American Record Guide, January 2011

Here is a generous selection of Andrea Gabrieli’s keyboard works played on harpsichord and spinet. Wilson is a fine advocate for these rarely heard treasures of keyboard literature.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2010

We have to be eternally grateful that Andrea Gabrieli’s nephew, the much better known Giovanni Gabrieli, rescued and published his uncle’s music from original manuscripts. Andrea’s place in history is still the subject of debate, but as organist at San Marco in Venice for the last nineteen years of his life, he was obviously held in high esteem. His known life history begins when he was already thirty and was working in Munich. There his recorded meeting with Lassus takes places in 1562, though at some time previous he must have had held the position of organist at the church of San Geremia in the Cannaregio section of Venice. How much music he actually composed is unclear, but I would accept Glen Wilson’s assurance in his booklet notes that in retrospect we can acknowledge that he was much involved in developing keyboard music, the shape of the ricercar was certainly changed and developed by him until it became the precursor of the fugue. Turn to track 9, the Ricercar del primo tono to sample the intrinsic beauty of his writing, or the mercurial Canzona: Frais & galliard, to sample the refreshing vivacity. His works were usually of a substantial length, and I particularly enjoyed the extended Ricercar del primo tuono (track 15).We can also accept that his skill as a performer allowed him to write works that would, at the time, be regarded as challenging. They are here played by Glen Wilson, a name linked with all that is great and good in the world of period rectitude. Highly desirable.

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