Rebecca Maurer

Antonio Valente: Intavolatura de Cimbalo (Napoli, 1576)

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German harpsichordist Rebecca Maurer here offers a specialist release, leavened with aspects of interest for general listeners. These involve not only the music, which is until now almost unknown, but also a historical (and artistic) tidbit pertaining to pasta's early Neapolitan origins. The music of Renaissance Naples, despite that city's size and economic importance, is less well understood than that of the northern cities, and Maurer's recording is mostly in the nature of an attempt to get a grasp on the 1576 publication of "Intavolatura de cimbalo" -- keyboard tablatures -- that gives the album its title. Little is known of composer Antonio Valente except that he was a likely blind keyboardist who issued this book. It's interesting on several counts. The one to which Maurer devotes the most space in her notes (in German, English, and French) is the unique tablature, created by Valente himself and featuring both numerals and hand indications. An example is included, but it's too small to see in detail. Valente made the unlikely claim that his tablature would enable even non-keyboardists to play difficult pieces without the aid of a teacher, proving that the art of hype was flourishing even more than four centuries ago. Of greater interest is the fact that the music seems specifically intended for a harpsichord. The word "cimbalo" apparently does not necessarily indicate this, but the music consists mostly of keyboard dances that would not lie easily under an organist's fingers. There is one work of sacred origin, a Salve Regina (track 14), that seems rather uncomfortable in its secular surroundings, and a few arrangements and variations on French or Flemish chansons that are polyphonic in nature, but most of the music -- even the pieces named "recercata" or ricercar -- is pretty flashy and generally fun to listen to. The early ground bass patterns that came into Italy via Naples from Spain are present in such pieces as the Tenore del passo e mezo, track 12. Maurer has little to say about the unfamiliar genre designations in the music, but it may be that what was specific to a "gagliarda napolitana," for example, is not yet known. The studio engineering from Germany's Christophorus label gives Maurer's harpsichord, a copy of a seventeenth century Italian model, a rich, close-up sound without a lot of fussy noise. This is doubtless an album primarily intended for large library collections of Renaissance music, but the serious fan of the period may also enjoy it.

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