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Christopher Brodersen
Fanfare, November 2011

…Naoko Akutagawa…plays the music with brilliance and unquestioned authority. The recorded sound is full and fairly close, but there is also a tangible sense of acoustical space around the instrument. I think it’s the perfect balance between first-arrival sound and room reverb. The engineers at Concerto would do well to check out this CD—a textbook example of how the harpsichord should be recorded. Highest recommendation.

Benjamin Katz
American Record Guide, September 2011

Akutagawa is a secure and poised player. I appreciate her stylish ornamentation in the Corrente and her finely-honed sense of Frescobaldian timing in the Toccata in F…

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

John France
MusicWeb International, June 2011

I guess that this CD caught me out! I have long known a couple of short Sonatas by a chap called Stephen Storace. I thought that Naxos had just published a new recording of harpsichord music by the said gentleman. I was totally wrong! And I learnt a lesson. There are a number of musical ‘Storaces’—Nancy, Bernardo and Stephen. It turned out that the present CD is of music by Bernardo, who ‘flourished’ around 1664. As I know nothing about this composer—he is outside my normal field of operations—I have to rely heavily on the relatively short liner-notes written by Glen Wilson and the article in Grove.

The key problem is that musicologists know virtually nothing about Bernardo. In fact, the only extant ‘biography’ would appear to be written on the title page of the holograph of the present work. In this short ‘CV’ he refers to himself as ‘vice-maestro di cappella’ to the Senate of Messina, which is in Sicily. Wilson suggests that this ‘paucity’ of information is likely to be due to the series of earthquakes that have struck this region over the centuries.

Grove notes that the 1664 Collection Selva di varie compositioni was published in Venice and musically looks more to the Northern School than to that of Naples and the South of Italy. In fact, stylistically, Storace owes much to the Roman composer Frescobaldi (1583–1643), ‘whose influence is felt in every bar.’ Certainly, the ‘dashing dances,’ correnti and gagliarde are important precursors of the later Baroque suites made so popular by Bach and Handel. Amongst the selections presented on this disc are an excellent Ciaccona, a Toccata and an ‘aberrant’ Follia (madness).

The main interest of Storace’s music lies in his use of the variation form. Technically the composer has utilised a number of musical devices that enable him to create a mass of inventive music from a relatively small amount of material. However, these ‘pedantic’ techniques do not take away from this music being both satisfying and artistic. The professional musicologist can worry about the ‘whys and wherefores’: the listener must simply enjoy the final product. The story goes that in the four ‘passacaglias’ (there are two presented on this disc) from the Selva di varie compositioni there are 320 variations on the ‘descending tetrachord’. For the record, this is simply a set of four descending notes derived from a scale or tetrachord and embracing a perfect fourth: for example, ‘F’ down to ‘C’ on the piano.

Naoko Akutagawa was born in Hiroshima in 1974. She started to play the piano at three and when sixteen began to study the harpsichord. Her academic achievements included a period in the Musikhochschule in Würzburg, Germany, where she became assistant professor in 1999. She specialises in chamber music and has recently performed Mozart concertos on the fortepiano. She has recorded the complete works of Gaspard de Roux and a selection of music by Johann Christoph Graupner for Naxos.

The present recording is the first time that I have heard Naoko Akutagawa and it is a sheer pleasure. I have often felt that an hour-long concert of harpsichord music can be a challenging experience, however, the playing and the selection of works provides a superb listening experience which never fails to interest or impress. The harpsichord, which is by Detmar Hungerberg, after an example dated 1697 by Carlo Grimaldi of Messina, sounds absolutely fantastic. In fact, the composer may well have known the maker of the original instrument.

So after my initial disappointment at not being able to review the music of Stephen Storace, I am perfectly contented. I am not able to compare versions of the Selva di varie compositioni, as it is a completely new work to me. However, based on the overall impression made by this disc, it is a ‘class’ act—from the impressive music, the playing, the sound quality, and the instrument. I cannot imagine any enthusiast of Italian harpsichord music in general or Bernardo Storace in particular wishing to be without this recording.

Finally Grove suggests that it is not ‘known whether [Bernardo] was an antecedent of the Storace family active in England at the end of the 18th century’.

James Manheim, June 2011

Bernardo Storace, apparently no relation to English composer Stephen Storace, is one of those composers for whom biographical information is almost completely lacking, and one wonders whether this has impeded the appreciation of his music historically. These harpsichord pieces come from a single manuscript, published in Venice in 1664, although Storace was apparently Sicilian. The notes for this Naxos release depict Storace as a follower of Frescobaldi, but actually the effect of these pieces is almost completely different from that of the music of the Roman master; the music on this album has few polyphonic elements, instead revealing an almost obsessive focus on the variation procedure. The large passacaglias and ciaccona add up to hundreds of variations between them, exploding distinctively into dance rhythms at the end just where you think there isn’t anything more to be wrung out of the simple ground bass patterns on which they are based. Nearly all of the pieces consist of variations of one kind or another, and the technical challenges of the music are considerable. Harpsichordist Naoko Akutagawa surmounts these with ease and delivers an appropriate steely consistency on her instrument, a copy by German maker Detmar Hungerberg of a 1697 instrument from Messina, apparently Storace’s home base. Brilliant and consistently dense with small note values, the music is a bit intense when these pieces are heard back to back like this, but Akutagawa offers a fine set of almost completely unknown virtuoso keyboard music here; much of it could fit easily into general programs of Baroque harpsichord music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

All we know of Bernardo Storace is on the title page of his only surviving score, and there he describes himself as the vice maestro di cappella to the State of Messina. When he lived and when he died remains a mystery though his death may well have occurred in one of the earthquakes that were common in Sicily of that time. That he must have been of some importance resides in the fact that his collection of keyboard works, Salva di varie compositioni was published in Venice in 1664, which in itself would accord the composer a high standing. Then we turn to the music and find writing of complexity and of a high musical education. The two Passacaglias on this disc contain 320 variations—I take that information on trust—and are fascinating scores in themselves. The present disc contains just a selection of works from this considerable volume, and have been chosen to offer a nicely contrasted programme opening with a Ciaccona, passing through a musical knockabout in the Ballo della Battaglia; a gently sad Variation on La Monica; a dashing Corrente, and finally the vivacious Altro passo e mezzo. In all there are twelve tracks performed by the Japanese-born harpsichordist, Naoko Akutagawa, who regular readers of this column will recall received a rave review for her 2008 release of music by Johann Graupner. I am equally enthusiastic here, though Storace is very demanding and there are just fleeting moments when too few fingers seem to be chasing too many notes. That said the clarity of the most intricate writing is excellent, and the recording produced by her distinguished mentor, Glen Wilson, is very good. She plays a copy of 1667 instrument by Carlo Grimaldi of Messina.

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