The fairly young Alina Rotaru (b. 1976), Romanian but currently
residing in Germany, has once again shown her total familiarity
with the appropriate idiom in this her newest recording. See
also her previous: J.P. Sweelinck - Fortune My Foe: Works
for Harpsichord on Carpe Diem CD-16281. She has clearly
confirmed that she is a major talent among contemporary harpsichord
players and, thankfully, there are many. What makes this issue
Before delving into the more formal analytical aspects of these
performances, I would simply direct the listener to, for example,
track 4, the Courante of Suite/Partita XIX in C minor. One’s
attention is immediately driven to the confident, freely expressive
and perfectly technically executed rendering. If this track
doesn’t entice you immediately, then you should probably
avoid Froberger altogether. I would also recommend tracks 8
(Gigue) and 9 (Courante) of Suite/Partita II in D minor.
Johann Jakob Froberger can be a tough stylistic nut to crack.
He was probably one of the most cosmopolitan composers of his
time: born in Germany, court organist in Vienna, but having
traveled to Italy twice, where he knew and studied with Girolamo
Frescobaldi, at least on his first visit. There were also visits
to England and Belgium as well as France where he knew and became
familiar with the French luténists, including
Denis Gaultier and Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher. In
the Netherlands he became friends with Constantijn Huygens -
father of the more well known Christiaan Huygens. Some have
credited him with the development of the baroque keyboard “suite.”
In any event, his experience led him to fuse the basic “German”
dance movement keyboard suite with the influences of Italy and,
particularly, those of France. In the latter he was principally
drawn to the luténists, whose style brisé
(arpeggiated texture) he was able to incorporate into many of
this keyboard suites or “partitas,” depending on
your denominational inclination.
Accordingly, it takes an interpreter of particular ability,
well versed in the notational and performance practices of the
time to successfully render Froberger’s keyboard works
into a satisfying amalgam of the various national styles. In
this, Ms. Rotaru excels, perhaps beyond the boundaries set by
some of her notable predecessors. It should be noted that the
scores provide only a basic outline of how the pieces are to
be played. For example, following Rotaru’s rendering of
Tombeau fait à Paris sur la Mort de monsieur Blancheroche
with the score - as set forth in volume 3 of the Denkmäler
der Tonkunst in Österreich collection of Froberger
keyboard works, 1959 - clearly shows the difference between
the bare notes on the page and the musical aggregate that should
emerge. While modern editions such as Siegbert Rampe’s
Johann Jacob Froberger: Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke
(1993ff) (Volume IV.1, Keyboard and Organ Works from Copied
Sources. Partitas and Partita Movements, Part 2 - 2003) provide
much assistance and guidance in performance practice, it is
ultimately up to the performer to combine these elements into
a satisfying musical whole. Rotaru also demonstrates a flawless
technique, but not in such a way as to draw attention to itself
at the expense of the music.
There are at least two significant predecessors to Rotaru. These
are Gustav Leonhardt, perhaps the “gold standard”
among harpsichord players, and Siegbert Rampe, with whom Ms.
Rotaru studied, and who also compiled a new catalog of Froberger’s
works, utilizing FbWV [Froberger-Werkverzeichnis] numbers.
Odious as comparisons may be, in setting Ms. Rotaru’s
performance in juxtaposition with these two major figures she
clearly emerges as an accomplished master in rendering Froberger’s
oeuvre into a readily digestible and enjoyable whole.
There is one piece, one suite and a movement from a suite that
all three include in their respective recordings: Leonhardt,
“Johann J. Froberger, Works for Harpsichord,” DHM
88697568392 (1989), and Siegbert Rampe, “Froberger: Meditations
and Fantasias,” Virgin Veritas 5099 6 02498 21) (2 CDs,
1995 and 1996). These other discs provide a basis for “comparison”:
Tombeau fait à Paris sur la Mort de monsieur Blancheroche/Blancrocher.
By the way, Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher (c. 1605 -
1652) (also referred to as Blancheroche) was a famous French
lutenist and friend of Froberger. It appears that Froberger
witnessed his sudden death: he fell down a flight of stairs-
note the descending C minor scale in the Tombeau. Four major
composers, including Froberger, wrote tombeaux in his
In the Tombeau, Rotaru uses the sonorous lower register
of her instrument to good advantage for the various pedal points
and maintains the subtle tension inherent in the piece throughout.
She also repeats the second section, which appears to be at
variance with the score - and taken neither by Leonhardt or
Rampe - but it does add a certain symmetry given the indicated
repeat for the first section. Leonhardt takes a more “delicate”
approach, in part reinforced by the lighter tone of his instrument,
with use of subtle rubato. Rampe accentuates the douleur
in the piece, with variances in the arpeggiations among the
more notable features. He also inserts a small bridge passage
between the end of the first section and the beginning of the
repeat. Chacun à son goût.
Rotaru plays the second Suite with great freedom and finesse,
as appropriate: deftly using agogic accents in the Allemande,
playful in the Gigue, flowing wonderfully in the Courante and
stately in the Sarabande without being ponderous. Leonhardt
takes a more “reticent” approach, with rhythms somewhat
more deliberate, and making quick work of the Sarabande. Rampe’s
approach is similar to that of Rotaru, just expressed somewhat
differently, if perhaps less elegantly.
As can be expected in such a “subjective” work as
the Lamentation, apparently written to console himself
after being attacked and beaten by a band of soldiers, each
performer puts their own spin on the piece, with Rotaru perhaps
being the most characterful and taking the least - and, I think,
just the right - amount of time, Leonhardt omitting all repeats
and Rampe being somewhat languorous.
For those wishing to do further comparisons, Rotaru and Rampe
both play the complete Suite/Partita No. XIV in G minor, Suite/Partita
No. XIX in C minor, Toccata No. II in D minor and Toccata in
No. XI in E minor (da sonarsi alla Levatione).
One pedantic footnote. There is some “controversy”
as to the order of dances in Froberger’s suites. In some
manuscripts - only two of Froberger’s pieces were printed
in his lifetime, and two of his five manuscript books for keyboard
are lost - the Gigue is placed last, after the Sarabande, as
done by Leonhardt and Rampe for the early Suite II, although
Rampe sets it second in the other suites except Suite XIV. Rotaru
places the Gigue as the second movement in this suite. To me,
it makes more musical sense to place the Gigue second, with
the suite ending with the Sarabande; but I guess you could make
arguments either way.
Ms. Rotaru plays on a visually and aurally gorgeous Ruckers
harpsichord (1632, reconstruction 1745, probably by Blanchet)
at Musée d’art et d’histoire in Neuchâtel,
Switzerland. It has a wonderfully resonant lower register, and
I cannot think of a more appropriate instrument for these works.
At first, I was somewhat surprised that Rotaru would choose
Tocatta XI, an Elevation toccata, presumably for presentation
during the Mass, for performance on the harpsichord, as opposed
to the organ, as done by Rampe. However, issues of authenticity
aside, the piece comes off better as music on the harpsichord.
Rampe’s somewhat extended rendition [6:22 vs. 3:45- no
repeats] may influence my view, irrespective of whether that
timing is necessary or appropriate for the Elevation. The Carpe
Diem recording is “up close” and made at a fairly
high level, but not disquietingly so.
As to the particular incarnation of these impressive recorded
renderings, the CD comes packaged in a space-saving cardboard
folder in which the CD slides inside the left “cover”.
There are detailed notes on Froberger and on the relevant recorded
pieces. These are by Wolfgang Kostujak, with whom Rotaru also
studied. Production values are high.
One last note. The blurb for this CD in the Carpe Diem online
A subject of countless speculations, his programmatic and personal
music is a creation of an exquisite and sensitive mind, masterfully
crafted with enigmatic and mystical elements, and points to
Froberger’s personal connections to thinkers and alchemists
of his time.
In my somewhat limited research, I have yet to see any reference
to such “enigmatic and mystical elements” or “connections
to ... alchemists of his time” other than this blurb but
if it sells more CDs, why not?
If you have any interest in Froberger or the innovations he
provided to the keyboard music of his time you should audition
and acquire this disc. The rewards are endless.
also review by Johan van Veen