I must start by saying that this is an outstanding release. Maiorana combines formidable technique with sensitive musicianship in very demanding repertoire. This, his debut CD, presents a varied selection of Kapsberger’s music for solo chitarrone from the three surviving printed books. From Book 1 we have four toccatas, including the well-known Arpeggiata; from Book 3 there are two more toccatas, the two correnti, the gagliarda plus the two madrigal settings; and finally from Book four we have 10 of the 16 preludes, two balli, a selection from the Passacaglia and the rarely-heard Battaglia.This makes for a varied recital, within the parameters of solo Kapsberger, with rather more free rhapsodic pieces than dances. Maiorana has the measure of this music. He makes light of the technical demands with explosive runs and rock-solid legato passages.His toccatas have structure and make no concessions to difficulty. His approach is also free and expressive. He flexes tempo rhetorically where it makes sense, but is true to the music, playing even the fastest passages in tempo. Sometimes he adds an improvised introduction or a coda and he joins pairs of the short preludes together, which works well. The Gagliarda is an example of this approach. Maiorana improvises an extended prelude then launches the dance at a fast, rhythmic tempo which he keeps up perfectly for the intricate divisions. He then goes back to the prelude as a coda and finishes with a reprise of the galliard theme. This is the only version I have heard that actually sounds like a dance, and very exciting it is. Another highlight is the Passacaglia. He plays the second A-minor set from the six sets of variations. This includes some of the most virtuosic sections, which are played with great panache. He begins softly then builds tension to a peak before ending quietly. Again, his tempo is on the fast side and carried through the semiquaver passages without a hitch. A feature of Kapsberger’s music is the frequent use of arpeggio signs as ornaments. Maiorana supplies extended arpeggios where he can, rather than the simple rolled chords of most other players, and this adds musical interest. One place where arpeggios really matter is the famous ‘Toccata Arpeggiata’. His basic tempo is fast, similar to Jakob Lindberg’s. But he lets the music ebb and flow according to the changing harmonies in a truly expressive way. One subtle touch is how he occasionally suppresses the bass note on the second and fourth beats, presumably to avoid the relentless four-in-a-bar feeling of some performances. The instrument seems to be a large Italian chitarrone with deep punchy bass and sweet treble. His playing is clean and precise and I think he uses nails, as recommended by Piccinini, because of his unusually good definition, particularly in the bass register. If he does, there is nothing in the least harsh or coarse in his sound, which is exemplary for the instrument. The recording is of the standard we are happily becoming used to. It is clear and resonant, fairly close but with little extraneous noise, bar a bit of finger noise and the odd sniff. This is in contrast to several older recordings of this repertoire that are full of squeaks. All in all, then, a valuable addition to the Kapsberger discography and a brilliant start for Maiorana.
Lute News 119, October 2016