Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger’s (c.1580-1651) works for theorbo are virtuosic, exploratory and peculiar: his baffling and brilliant use of rhythm (at a time when most other virtuoso players were pounding the semi-quavers) stewed with his surprisingly-odd chromatic harmony lends his music an obscure and surprising quality. As a result of his unconventional style his direct musical influences are ephemeral. He spent most of his life working in the same household (Cardinal Barberini’s: the nephew of Pope Urban VIII) in Rome as Girolamo Frescobaldi; inevitably close during their presumed co-development of the toccata form: – ‘toccata’ translates as ‘touched’ – but otherwise much of K’s life and music eludes us. By the 1610s the toccata was a fantasy form born out of sixteenth-century preambulatory forms such as the prelude, ricercar and ‘tastar de corde’ (to tune the strings): juxtaposed sections of blindingly florid passages and fugal polyphony are abruptly joined in a theatrical improvisatory style.
This album focuses primarily on Kapsberger’s preludes and toccatas with only a few dance movements (gagliarda, corrente etc.) thrown in for their notable and enjoyable peculiarities. All the pieces recorded are from Kapsberger’s 3rd (1626) and 4th (1640) books for theorbo. Kapsberger’s 2nd book of theorbo (chitarrone) music still remains to be found.
‘[Kapsberger] with his superb genius and other scientific skills in which he was expert, successfully penetrated the secrets of music.’
Anathasius Kircher: Musurgia Universalis (1650)
‘Many of these pieces have considerable difficulties which McCartney does not shirk. His playing is precise, thoughtful and always in control. One particular strength is the care with which he articulates fast divisions, which can sound a little scrappy in other hands….[McCartney’s] complex flourishes and divisions are sensitively and cleanly played.’
John Reeve, The Lute (UK Lute Society)
‘This is a highly enjoyable disc, warmly recorded and expertly performed throughout.’
Nick Boston, Classical Notes
‘A meditative disc that reflects
English melancholy… sublime and perfect.’
‘[A]n enchanting collection of fine performances of lute repertoire from a number of composers from the time of the court of Elizabeth I. Very enjoyable.’
‘According to the programme notes, these pieces are notoriously tricky to play, although I wouldn’t have noticed that from Alex McCartney’s assured performance here. … Alex McCartney’s playing is sensitive and musical, and the recording picks up the sound of the lute very well.’
Andrew Benson-Wilson, Early Music Reviews