Italian label Tactus specializes in neglected Italian literature of the past; among its many offerings one may find several interesting and unique projects resulting from investigations into the more shadowy corners of Italy's keyboard music. This disc, Giovan Battista Ferrini: Opere per Clavicembalo, featuring Roberto Loreggian, is one of Tactus' best contributions to the field. Ferrini was Roman and his birthdate estimated around 1601; he worked chiefly as an organist there, from 1619 at S. Luigi dei Francesi and, from 1623 to 1653, the "Chiesa Nuova" in Valicella. Ferrini then retired and lived another two decades. However, none of his music is sacred; it appears his colleagues best knew Ferrini as a composer of harpsichord music, judging from his nickname "della Spinetta." The presence of several Ferrini pieces in the Vatican manuscript Chigi Q.IV 25 suggests that he may have been of the school of musicians clustered around Girolamo Frescobaldi, as Frescobaldi's students compiled this manuscript, although Ferrini may simply have been an outsider whose work was admired by them. Perhaps his birthdate was somewhat earlier and he was more of a contemporary of Frescobaldi. Nevertheless, Ferrini was familiar with the approach to variation form associated with Frescobaldi, as heard in his Partite sopra l'Aria di Fiorenza and Capriccio fatto sopra il Cucchù. Although hardly anyone knows of Ferrini in the present context, he was quite famous in his day, and his music praised by Athanasius Kircher, among others.
Ferrini's dances are perfect little gems that epitomize the forms they represent, such as his Ciaccone and Rotta; his Ballo di Mantova sounds almost English in its treatment of the popular tune and rings familiarly from the first listen. However, Ferrini's more open-form, improvisatory pieces grab one's attention -- the Tastata, which opens the disc, has a loose flexibility reminiscent of Kapsberger. Trombetta is a driving battle piece that almost sounds like Heinrich von Biber translated to the keyboard, with its oblong ground basses and strikingly independent right-hand parts. Capriccio fatto sopra il Cucchù is a highly complex set of polyphonic variations where a two-note "cuckoo" figure both intersects, overlaps, and interrupts the texture at unpredictable points in the piece; it is one of the most startlingly experimental keyboard pieces of the early seventeenth century.
Released in 1996, Giovan Battista Ferrini: Opere per Clavicembalo was Loreggian's debut on disc, and he has gone onto many other worthy projects, not only for Tactus but for Chandos, Dynamic, Arts, and Brilliant Classics. He plays a clavicembalo and spinet built by Riccardo Pergolis after seventeenth and early eighteenth century models, and these have a big, glorious sound worthy of the Ruckers that Wanda Landowska used to play, but with a tone quality and temperament appropriate for the music at hand. Tactus' Giovan Battista Ferrini: Opere per Clavicembalo is an indispensable disc for those interested in the instrumental music of the early Baroque, and introduces a figure to the recorded canon who rightly should find a place in the repertory, as well.