Johann Jacob Froberger, Complete Capriccios [CD]. Bob van Asperen (organ), rec. June 2002 and May 2010, St. Ludgeri, Norden, Netherlands. AEOLUS AE-10701 [79'30].
In 2000, the renowned early-music scholar and performer Bob van Asperen embarked on a complete series of Froberger's keyboard music, performed exclusively on historic instruments. The seventh and final volume, released in 2010, features a total of eighteen capriccios, including a capriccio discovered as late as in 2006. In this context, the term capriccio designates a fugal genre that includes unified wholes as well as pieces in several sections with successive variations of the opening theme being developed separately. In the latter case, the themes are subject to a multistage metamorphosis. The opening themes are typically of a lively character, involving leaps and striking rhythms. In the liner notes, van Asperen writes that, with these masterpieces, Froberger rose to his greatest heights as a composer of contrapuntal music. Indeed, when listening to this recording, it is impossible not to be impressed by the exceptional quality of Froberger's capriccios. Stylistically "progressive" techniques allow Froberger to reveal new and unsuspected depths. This is music that paved the way for Bach's fugues.
Bach's name also comes to mind for another reason. In a group of four non-autograph manuscripts, works based on the same theme are ordered in pairs. For instance, Capriccio No. 9 is preceded by Fantasia No. 4 (which appears on the fifth CD of van Asperen's Froberger series). These monothematic structures point forward to The Art of Fugue, in which the fugues and canons are all based on a single theme. Van Asperen notes that, in The Art of Fugue, "the contrapuntal possibilities of one and the same theme were treated in several fugues, whereby at the same time, like as in Froberger's capriccios, thematic transformations play an important role."
Van Asperen is naturally not the first performer to have recorded Froberger's capriccios, but this SACD release is certainly an essential addition. With 46 stops, the three-manual Arp Schnitger organ of the Ludgerikirche, Norden, offers a rich palette of contrasting colors and sonorities. This gem of an organ, finished in 1687, is ideal for Froberger's music; and the sound is brilliantly recorded. The textural clarity achieved on this recording is indispensable in these contrapuntally conceived pieces. The extensive liner notes written by the performer are a fine bonus to listeners interested in the registration and other aspects of the interpretation. The performance is invigorating, and van Asperen holds the listener from beginning to end. Discipline and erudition blend seamlessly with joyful virtuosity, elevating the recording into a class of its own. Van Asperen's razor-sharp articulation of each phrase feels as natural as a breath of fresh air, and is precisely what the style requires. Van Asperen employs a variety of registrations, but the use of bright mixtures is never excessive. Quiet textures allow him to demonstrate the effect of the tremulant. In this respect, Capriccio No. 16 features a section of particular beauty. In short, van Asperen's meticulous playing more than renders justice to Froberger's music by bringing out its tremendous inventiveness and sophistication. The listener is left with the question of whether this music has ever been played better.
|Thematic transformations in Froberger's Capriccio No. 10 (click to enlarge)|