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Masterworks and Miniatures - Organ and harpsichord music from renaissance Venice
Richard Lester (keyboards)
rec. 1 and 22 September 2014, St James’ Catholic Church, Reading, Berkshire.
NIMBUS NI5931 [77:53]

Masterworks and Miniatures for keyboard instruments
90-page A4 wire-bound sheet music, compiled and edited by Richard Lester
Composers featured in the score:
Girolamo Diruta (c 1554-c 1610)
Claudio Merulo (1533-1604)
Andrea Gabrieli (1532/33-1585)
Gioseffo Guami (1542-1611)
Antonio Mortaro (fl 1587-1610)
Giovanni Gabrieli (c 1555-1612)
Includes CD as described above,
DVD Video, ‘Venetian Reflections’ [48:00]
ISMN: 979-0-708129-24-0

I received this as the full package – book, CD and DVD — but will begin with the CD as a separate release.

Richard Lester’s recordings already amount to a distinguished catalogue within Nimbus, and we’ve greatly enjoyed his Organ Masses, Scarlatti, Frescobaldi and others. This particular recording brings together more or less familiar names who were associated with musical activity around the Basilica di San Marco in Venice during the 16th century. The sometimes complex timeline of which composer was appointed to which post and as successor to whom is all outlined in Richard Lester’s booklet notes. These go into the modes or scales used, choices in registration for the organ works, the composers and their music – all in a learned but accessible style, and all very much adding to the value of this excellent recording.

Without going into too much detail, the organ works have been recorded on the fine sounding 1977 Tamburini instrument in St James’ Catholic Church, Reading. The acoustic is fairly dry, and while it suits the scale of the instrument this is nothing like the environment of San Marco. Clarity is the reward, and students of this music will be able to glean every detail of each work, while the listening experience remains pleasurable for more casual listeners.

The pieces: Ricercar, Canzoni, Canzoni alla francese and toccate, would have been the basis for improvisations performed during Divine Office, for instance during the Offertory. The imitative counterpoint of the ricercar can be seen as the forerunner of the fugue, and canzoni descended from secular songs which, as the booklet tells us, were capable of creating their own controversies when they cropped up in a religious context. Lester has been careful to mix his programme to deliver as much contrast as possible, using a variety of modes with their associated changes of mood, and alternating tempi and textures. The central island of harpsichord performances also provides a break from the sonorities of the organ, and these are sympathetically recorded on a very nice sounding single manual Italian 17th century copy built by Colin Booth.
If you buy the 90 page volume of music with 17 complete works by the composers listed, then you will find the CD and its booklet attached to the back cover, along with a DVD. Beautifully printed on substantial paper and spiral bound for maximum practicality, certain pieces are provided with an introducing text, some with fingerings, each with registration suggestions and some added ideas on ornamentation, though with the suggestion that this is also up to the performer. If you play the recordings along with the scores then you will soon hear how much extra ornamentation Richard Lester puts in, and no matter how elaborate the music may look on the paper there is always room for more notes, as appears to have been the practise of the day.

In the preface to the book Richard Lester looks extensively into contemporary performance treatises and, based on them, suggests possibilities for correct period fingering, ornamentation and registration of these works. This is further elaborated on in the 48 minute DVD video, ‘Venetian Reflections’, which includes useful demonstrations of the practicalities of period fingering and ornamentation. The film also includes several demonstrations and complete performances on both harpsichord and organ, with Lester’s economically compact but highly expressive technique nicely captured. The introduction of the film provides plenty of Venetian atmosphere and historical context and, as with the booklet notes, Lester doesn’t compromise or talk down to us but manages to make what is a rather academic subject at the very least accessible, and for keyboard players, extremely informative and useful in the widest sense. It’s like having your own one-to-one master-class with the artist, and though it’s a passive one it is at least a session to which one can return at will.

Dominy Clements

Gioseffo GUAMI (1542-1611)
Toccata in the IInd tone [2:08]
Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33-1585)
Canzona francese detta Qui la Dira [3:50]
Giovanni GABRIELI (c.1555-1612)
Ricercar in the VIIth and VIIIth tones [2:36]
Canzona alla francese Petit Jacquet [2:03]
Ricercar Settimo tono [4:28]
Claudio MERULO (1533-1604)
Canzona 4: La Leonora
Ricercar Arioso [4:12]
Adrian WILLAERT (c.1490-1652)
Ricercar 3 [4:08]
Gioseffo GUAMI
Canzona: La Guamina [1:51]
Ricercar mode X [3:48]
Canzona: La Spiritata [2:25]
Jacques BUUS (c.1500-1565)
Ricercar Primo [4:05]
Canzona alla francese detta Je ne diray moy bergiere [2:06]
Claudio MERULO
Toccata Prima, Toccata Tuono 1598 [5:04]
Intonazione mode I [0:41]
Claudio MERULO
Toccata Ottava Quarto tuono 1598 [6:40]
Intonazione primo tuono [1:20]
Claudio MERULO
Toccata Settima Ottavo Tuono 1604 [7:20]
Intonazione Secondo Tono [0:45]
Claudio MERULO
Toccata Undecimo detto Quinto Tuono 1604 [6:16]
Ricercar Quinto tuono [5:14]
Intonazione Duodecima Tono [0:53]



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