Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger (c.1580–1651), often spelled Kapsberger, has acquired a moderate prominence in recent years with the resurgence of the theorbo in early music groups. Like many theorbists, Stefano Maiorana began his studies on classical guitar and transferred his considerable technique to the earlier instrument through extensive continuo work in his native Italy. And considerable technique is necessary to play Kapsperger’s music. Kapsperger wrote music of a style that is totally his own. While much of his harmonic experimentation can be related to the extensive use of the theorbo as a continuo instrument—the role for which it was invented—he is never far away from an odd, seemingly non-functional dissonance used purely for colour. Add to this extensive use of left-hand slurs and cross-string scales and it is small wonder that relatively little of this music can be heard on recordings today. Maiorana’s performance displays a rare combination of technique and thought, especially in the preludes and toccatas. Modern scholars and performers are only just beginning to understand the development of Kapsperger’s music: his printed works begin in 1604 and continue until 1640, with several important lost works. This performance gives us an intimate glimpse into the unique genius of a composer rarely represented in surveys of music from the first half of the 17th century and thus might be the most revelatory of the recordings considered here.
Early Music Oxford