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Simone Stella has timed the release of his ‘complete’ Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-67) set to coincide with the two anniversaries of the composer’s birth and death.

For this project, Stella has followed the catalogue of Siegbert Rampe, editor of the complete Bärenreiter edition. ‘Complete’ means all the music that remains. Libro primo and Libro terza have been lost, and so CDs 1 and 2 contain the Libro secundo (1649), CDs 3, 4 and 5 the Libro quarto (1656) and the Libro di capricci e ricercate (c1658). The remaining 11 CDs contain partitas, toccatas and polyphonic works from the considerable number of really interesting secondary sources.

Froberger was fascinating character and a seminal composer in the history of 17th-century keyboard music. Having studied with Frescobaldi in Rome, he became organist to the Emperor in Vienna, and his numerous travels across Europe took him to Dresden (where he met Matthias Weckmann), Brussels, Utrecht, London, Regensburg, and Paris (where he met Louis Couperin). He was able to absorb the different national styles, especially French suites, as well as transmitting Italian toccata styles to Weckmann and hence to Buxtehude in Hamburg and Lübeck.

Stella’s achievement in recording these works is remarkable. He uses the four organs in the toccatas, fantasias and canzonas, and the harpsichord for the partitas and lamentations. We have few clues as to how Froberger himself played, but it is in the toccatas that Stella uses his extraordinary musical imagination, serving as an inspiration for many other valid interpretations. The quarter-comma meantone temperament is essential for projecting the emotional impact of dissonant notes and wild harmonic changes, and Stella’s use of rhetoric and timing is completely effective. The organs are used with a plethora of registration changes (with all stop-change noises edited out), both demonstrating the extraordinary sounds of the instruments and opening unforeseen opportunities for performance practice. The polyphonic pieces are played with commitment and virtuosity, while the harpsi- chord suites and tombeaux are played with excellent style and expression. Froberger’s gigues in 4/4 time have been thought (by Howard Ferguson) to have been intended to be played in 12/8 (as is one version in the Bauyn Manuscript), but Stella has adopted Rampe’s opinion (after J.G. Walther) that the common-time gigue was a valid German genre. The accompanying booklet is adequate, but could have been much expanded for this significant recording project. A worthy investment.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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