Kapsberger: Toccata/Touched

Alex McCartney: Toccata: Touched
Works by GG Kapsberger
Veterum Musica. VM015. 45’27

This recording is clearly something of a labour of love, albeit a rather short one, at just 45’27. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c1580-1651) was the son of an Austrian colonel, and was possibly born in Venice. He spent much of his musical life in the household of Cardinal Barberini in Rome (alongside Frescobaldi, amongst others) where he quickly built a reputation for virtuoso theorbo playing. To what extent his published theorbo pieces reflect his live performances is unclear, but they are sometimes frankly rather odd, not least with his unconventional use of rhythm and harmony. Contemporary commentators hinted strongly that his compositions were not as good as his performances. 

He was composing at a time when the toccata form was developing from its earlier purpose of assisting with tuning to becoming a free musical form in its own right. Frescobaldi’s keyboard toccatas, for example, are amongst the highlights of the repertoire. The pieces on this recording are from his third and fourth books, published in 1626 and 1640. Many are tiny miniatures, lasting less than a minute, and presumably in the older style of toccata. these are balanced by more extended pieces including a Passacaglia, Gagliarda and the piece entitled ‘Kapsberger’.

Alex McCartney plays with musical conviction, taking even the tiniest little musical morsel seriously. The theorbo use is made by Paolo Busato after a 1611 Vendelino Eberle model in Padova, and has an attractive resonance of its own. It was recorded in Glasgow Cathedral, although the acoustic suggests a relatively smallish part. As well as performing, Alex McCartney also recorded and produced the CD. An issue with the recorded sound is that each track ends with a very audible shift from the playing acoustic to acoustically ‘dead’ sound, before fading back for the next track. Normally, recording engineers record the silent space of the room, to insert in between tracks. It might also have been helpful is some of the shortest toccatas were played in segued groups, rather than as isolated pieces.

More information, and listening and downloading information, can be found here.

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