Johann Jacob Froberger: Ricercar

Bob van Asperen

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Johann Jacob Froberger: Ricercar Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

In 2000, organist/harpsichordist Bob van Asperen began a series of the complete keyboard music of Johann Jacob Froberger for the Aeolus label designed to run to eight volumes, and with this release -- Johann Jacob Froberger: Ricercare -- we reach Vol. 6. This super audio CD contains all 12 of Froberger's fully authenticated ricercare in addition to the two items in this genre -- Nos. 13 and 14 -- that are considered questionable for Froberger. Although van Asperen has visited the toccatas in an earlier volume of the series, here he adds three more that exist in a manuscript originating with the school of Frescobaldi in Italy that are ascribed to Froberger, who may have been a late student of Frescobaldi, but not officially placed in Froberger's retinue by the time of release. Although the three "Chigi Toccatas" -- as they have been called -- are adjudged as rather conservative pieces among some Froberger experts, the Toccata 3a is certainly a wild piece with its hair-raising discords and flights of furious fingerwork; van Asperen's own mentor Gustav Leonhardt once stated that he believed the Toccata 3a was a genuine work of Froberger.

This series is designed so that each volume of his Froberger edition will be performed on a different historic keyboard. This instrument is an organ in the church of Spirito Santo in Pistoia, built by Dutch organ builder Willem Hermans in 1664; it was restored in 1995. The Hermans organ has an excellent, rather jangly sound and an interesting, rather wobbly sounding tremolo stop that can be heard here and there; as an instrument it is contemporary to and well suited to the sound of Froberger's music. The experimental style of Froberger's other toccatas, tombeau, and other kinds of later compositions are rather absent from most of this disc. Van Asperen's playing is spirited and accurate, though it is not outstandingly moving in an emotional sense; to even know of Froberger usually indicates some devotion to the cause of 17th century keyboard music, and if you are already there, then there is little to nothing that will seem "wrong" with this. It's just that this part of Froberger's repertoire is a little cooler and function oriented than some of his fantasias or suites.

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