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.

G. Boye
Early Music Oxford

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Over the last 25 years or so the solo lute works of Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c. 1580-1651) have garnered significant representation on disc. My introduction to this music was Paul O’Dette’s signal 1990 recording on Harmonia Mundi. Featuring a panoply of harmonic surprises and an often asymmetrical, improvisatory character, these works immediately caught the attention of lutenists everywhere. Kapsberger was active at a crucial moment in European musical history, that highly creative and innovative transitional period between the Renaissance and Baroque eras. As a lutenist he was a celebrated virtuoso, but he also left us with a significant body of work across a number of genres, including madrigals, songs with continuo accompaniment and even a stage work. This music languished in obscurity for centuries, only seeing a resurgence of interest toward the end of the 20th century, possibly on account of a falling-out that occurred between the reportedly temperamental Kapsberger and his influential contemporary, musicologist Giovanni Battista Doni (c. 1593-1647) who subsequently published some scathing assessments of Kapsberger’s music.

Mr. Maiorana’s recording contains a representative cross-section of Kapsberger’s works for solo theorbo (chitarrone) drawn from three surviving collections. The pieces chart a comprehensive traversal of the composer’s career, beginning with Libro Primo (1604), continuing with Libro Terzo (1626) and Libro Quarto (1640).  (Libro Secundo from 1620 has unfortunately been lost).  We would expect to hear an evolution of style and technique across this three-and-a-half decade span, but on this CD the pieces jump between the three publications in way that, though it makes musical sense, is not chronological. Our perception of such an evolution, if it even existed (I couldn’t hear it), is therefore obscured. This does nothing, however, to diminish the quality and sophistication of the music, as Kapsberger was inventive, adventurous, and a technical master of his instrument.

Of course any collection of this music requires a performer of the highest caliber, and we certainly have one in Mr. Maiorana. His performance is elegant and polished, his technical and musical skills abundant, and he makes this often enigmatic music very enjoyable to hear. There is intimacy in the sound he elicits from his theorbo, but when called for, plenty of drama. He is equally at home with lyrical passages, toe-tapping dance rhythms, and the eyebrow-raising virtuosic cascades of notes that punctuate Kapsberger’s music. We hear these cascades pervasively in the Preludios from Libro Quarto of which this recording contains a healthy dollop. It’s a device that makes takes full advantage of the theorbo’s re-entrant tuning, wherein the instrument can evoke the character of a harp.

 In these Preludios and also in the Toccatas, Mr. Maiorana emphasizes the rhythmic freedom inherent in this style, imbuing the pieces with a highly improvisatory character. While this is certainly in keeping with the composer’s intent, for me it raises the question of how these pieces were originally composed. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are notated versions of Kapsberger’s own improvisations, probably worked out over a number of public performances and finally intabulated for publication. I further suspect that subsequent performances of these pieces (if there were any) would not have slavishly adhered to the published versions. As if to illustrate this, Mr. Maiorana has added his own not-so-brief coda to Preludio IX (track 3) inspired by elements contained in Libro Terzo, which serves to extend the freewheeling character of the piece.

This is a beautifully recorded CD in which the engineers have captured the intimacy of Mr. Maiorana’s playing and rendered it very pleasingly. While the natural resonance of the theorbo is much in evidence, it is in no way muddied by excessive room ambiance. For those of us already familiar with Kapsberger’s music this disc is a welcome addition to the catalog, and for those to whom this music is new, an attention-grabbing introduction. Audiophiles should note that the CD was recorded in 48Khz/24-bit resolution (DVD-A standard), but of course for CD release it was mastered at 44.1Khz/16-bit, (CD standard). Austrian record label Fra Bernardo’s recordings are distributed in the US by Naxos, where the discs are available from their website (naxosdirect.com), and can also be purchased or streamed/downloaded from Amazon.com. Hopefully you can also find it at your local CD store. While I could not immediately find a source for this recording in its high-resolution format, I hope one will soon emerge.

H. Kadis
LSA Quarterly

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Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger lived from c. 1580 to 1651. He was a contemporary of Frescobaldi, Schütz, Schein, Scheidt, Tomkins, and Allegri. From an Austrian family living in Italy, Kapsberger was probably born in Venice and is remembered both as a prolific composer and virtuoso of the lute and theorbo (chitarrone). Both these aspects of Kapsberger’s work contributed significantly to the development of the lute and theorbo/chitarrone as (solo) instruments.
Early plucked-string specialist Stefano Maiorana was born in Rome and a pupil of several prominent experts in the field including Paul O’Dette; he studied classical guitar at Santa Cecilia. His purpose in producing this exemplary CD on the Fra Bernardo label was specifically to offer a wider view of Kapsberger than perhaps most general listeners (and indeed some non-specialists in the repertoire) may have.
He has succeeded. Although a key facet of the 20 works drawn from Books I, III and IV of “Intavolatura di chitarrone” presented here is variety, after listening to the music, you are also impressed with the composer’s perception, gentle insistence on inventiveness and gifts at carrying an idea (thematic and textural) through in such a way that its impact seems inevitable.
The Preludes from Book IV [tr.s 1,3,6,10,13] are quiet, humble reflections – meditations, almost (as Maiorana suggests in his informative booklet which comes with the CD) while the five Toccate [tr.s 4,7,14,15,18,20] are not only more contrapuntal in nature, but also more spirited, upward- and outward-facing. They too, though, have an elegiac quality to which Maiorana’s precise yet neither over-delicate nor unduly effusive style of playing is well suited.
Even the dance music included here, courantes, balli, a galliard, are played less as demonstrations and more with an emphasis on delight, not rhetoric. The “Battaglia” [tr.16] is the longest piece here, at almost nine minutes, and could have been turned into an excuse for quirky virtuosity. That’s not Maiorana’s approach, though. Instead we hear an account full of sensitivity – sympathy even – for the musical and creative world in which Kapsberger was evidently so well at home. There is nothing superfluous, showy or demonstrative. Maiorana starts with technique (even in the extraordinary last five seconds of the “Battaglia”), which rests on a thorough understanding of the idiom. He lets the music inexorably press home its own advantage.
Maiorana’s playing also implicitly acknowledges Kapsberger’s grasp of form: contrast, development, quotation. But perhaps above all the craft of unself-consciously melding the various components of any one piece in such a way that the whole is greater than its parts. One remains aware of the sonority of the chitarrone (a modern copy by Martin Shepherd of an original theorbo) throughout. And it’s closely miked, providing an almost lambent experience; yet nothing cloying or oppressive.
This is a collection of evocative, proud and impressive musical statements from a composer whose work deserves to be better known. By letting the works speak for themselves through his deeply sympathetic and comprehending approach, Maiorana has done the composer a real service. Aware that we are listening to modern performances of inevitably modern conception, we are nevertheless made to concentrate on the very essences of Kapsberger’s imagination. Maiorana has the gift of bringing us with him as he explores. Though such exploration is neither experimental; nor falsely empirical. He expands a repertoire and type of music-making that could be misunderstood as ‘miniature’s or ‘minor’. But without over-blowing the music, his playing finds nothing that’s not written and wished for by Kapsberger.
The acoustic (of the Sala Capitolare in the Roman church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva) is warm, fresh and clean. It adds much to our appreciation of the instruments and intricacies of Kapsberger’s writing over and above any more generalized pleasure that we may derive from more than an hour of this persuasive music. The liner notes guide the reader through the types of work performed, providing pointers to their context and strengths. If this repertoire is one you enjoy already, you will not be disappointed by the color, dexterity and depth of the playing here. If Kapsberger is new to you, this well-produced CD makes and excellent introduction. A little gem that is recommended without hesitation.

M. Sealey
Classical Net

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Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger (1580-1651), virtuoso del chitarrone – grande liuto arricchito di lunghe corde nel registro grave che gli donano timbro profondo e ne fanno uno dei protagonisti del basso continuo – fu celeberrimo in ambiente romano, tramandando il suo modo di suonare in un libro d’intavolatura eseguito e inciso spesso come prova di maturità dagli abili esecutori di questo strumento. Anche Stefano Maiorana, eccellente prodotto della scuole romana (non seicentesca ma contemporanea) di chitarra e liuto licenzia il suo Kapsberger che si ascolta con interesse e approvazione anche conoscendo le blasonate alternative discografiche (Hopkinson Smith, Rolf Lieslevand, Paul O’Dette) rispetto alle quali il nostro non sfigura, anzi si fa notare per la razionalità con cui esegue gli accordi ora con tocco simultaneo ora con tocco arpeggiato (scelta che non dovrebbe mai essere arbitraria bensì sempre funzionale al percorso armonico) e per lo studio condotto sull’ornamentazione affinché questa accompagni l’elasticità di movimento tipica di questa musica ma senza danneggiare la scansione del ritmo.

★★★★

C. Fiore
Classic Voice n° 217/2017

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Kapsberger Theorbo Pieces Vibrantly Performed.

Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (also known as Johann Hieronymus, last name occasionally spelled Kapsperger) was a German-Italian composer and performer of plucked strings. Known from his early years as a virtuoso, he lived and worked in elite Italian society. He joined the household of Cardinal Francesco Barberini in 1624, where he toiled alongside such luminaries as Frescobaldi, Luigi Rossi, and poet Giulio Rospigliosi, the future Pope Clement IX.
While Kapsberger (ca. 1580–1651) wrote in virtually all of the popular genres of the day, including motets and masses, popular madrigals, and works for the stage, he was best known for his attention to the theorbo — so much so that his nickname was Il Tedesco della tiorba, or “The German of the theorbo.”
His compositions for that instrument are often quite virtuosic, playing not only with syncopations and rhythmic intricacies but also with contrasts in texture, melodic or harmonic approach, and ornamentation. He published several books of intabulations for the chitarrone, but unfortunately Book Two and parts of Book Three are lost.
The 20 selections on this recording by Stefano Maiorana are drawn from these publications. The works he has chosen certainly reflect the breadth and depth of Kapsberger’s approach to the solo theorbo, including free-form compositions, intabulations of Italian madrigals (one each by Gesualdo and Arcadelt), and an array of dances. How popular such dance forms were is also seen in the longer toccatas and balli, shorter sections or variations within which reflect dance-like features.
It is a beautifully unified recording; each track flows into the next in almost hypnotic fashion. Yet it is far from monochromatic. Rather, Maiorana’s exploratory approach to Kapsberger’s music allows for his continuous succession of textures, themes, and styles to unfold in simultaneously familiar and subtly dramatic ways. How carefully he pays attention to phrasing is obvious not only in the overall shape created in each piece but also in his audible breathing, which imbues the recording with a sense of personal connection.
His playing is clear and precise without sacrificing emotiveness, and even the challenging passages (such as the florid sections of the Gesualdo intabulation, or intavolatura) come across as no more difficult than if he were improvising. Perhaps the most interesting of the tracks is the long Battaglia, which features myriad inventive variations over a repeating bass line, concluding with a sweepingly resonant arpeggio into the lowest ranges of the instrument.
As recordings devoted exclusively to Kapsberger go, there are only a few (Rolf Lislevand, Hopkinson Smith, and Paul O’Dette come to mind). Maiorana’s CD sits quite comfortably among them in both quality and content, as there is minimal overlap in repertoire. Moreover, as far as I can tell, it is the only such disc to use the theorbo alone, as others include Kapsberger’s intabulations for lute as performed on that instrument. In a way, it is unfortunate that this is Maiorana’s debut recording, as he has certainly set the bar high for himself. If future recordings come close to matching this one in style and execution, we can indeed look forward to them.

Karen Cook
Early Music America

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“Intavolatura” refers to tablature, the method of writing out plucked-string music and some keyboard music in fingering numerals, instead of with note-heads in a score. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger (c1580-1651) published six books of music for chitarrone (like a theorbo or bass lute), along with some for other plucked instruments, and vocal music. Books 2, 5, and 6 are lost. Stefano Maiorana has selected pieces from the other three books (1604, 1626, and 1640) to give a survey of the varied styles, and appended a coda of his own to one of the pieces. I can see from the tablature that he is adding much more than that— all to the good, getting inside each piece and playing it like a fresh improvisation. We get dance music, variation sets, free-sounding toccatas and preludes, a battle piece, and several of the composer’s ornamented arrangements of madrigals by Gesualdo and Arcadelt. The packaging disagrees with itself, spelling the composer’s name both as “Kapsberger” and “Kapsperger”. The composer’s first book (very neatly printed) has it with the second P, but you will usually find it as in our heading. Even in the most vigorous sections, the instrument’s tone is gentle and low. I find it relaxing to turn off my brain and let this spontaneous sounding and often amorphous music wash over me. It’s difficult to guess what is coming next in it, but it all sounds secure and clever. The booklet says Maiorana is a professor of lute, having also earned degrees in guitar and architecture. Let’s hope for sequels from this terrific player. There isn’t much competition for this album; it fills a repertoire niche. I have not heard the recording of Book 1 by Hopkinson Smith (J/F 2003). Book 3 was not available to Paul O’Dette in 1989 for his excellent album “Il Tedesco della Tiorba” (Harmonia Mundi, July/Aug 2008). Half of that program is played on lute, and half on chitarrone. There is only one two-minute piece in common with Maiorana, who plays it at a slightly lower pitch and elaborates its texture.

B. Lehman
American Record Guide n° 2/2017

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No sobra otro disco solístico de Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580-1651). Le han dedicado monográficos a solo Hopkinson Smith, Paul O’Dette, Sandro Volta y, más recientemente, Diego Cantalupi. Las vacas sagradas abrieron nuevos campos que ahora otros transitan, acrecentando beneficios. Es pertinente la grabación si es tañida con la sensibilidad del laudista y tiorbista romano Stefano Maiorana, que interpreta al chitarrone. Es este una variante italiana de la tiorba, aunque en los inicios del siglo XVII venía a ser el mismo instrumento, casi imposible por su tamaño (este tiene 14 órdenes simples, de los que siete son bordones) y, sin embargo, es capaz de tañer los sonidos más aterciopelados. Empleado entonces más para hacer el continuo que a solo, la ver- dad que no se cansa uno de escucharlo. El programa escoge un completo ramillete de formas musicales para dar constancia de la variedad y maestría de Girolamo: preludios, tocatas, gallardas, corrientes, pasacalles, balli, madrigales intabulados (Arcadelt y Gesualdo) y hasta una batalla, la pieza en que más efectos idiomáticos se desarrollan y de extensión inusitada en este repertorio, con casi nueve minutos. Me gusta especialmente Maiorana en los diez preludios, que agrupa en parejas. Desasido del imperativo del tempo es donde la musicalidad se puede expresar mejor. En este caso, la música respira, se recrea en los ad libitum, se complace en los adornos… y en su propia respiración. La liberación del corsé formal se nota. Pero también luce cuando el compás ha de marcar inmisericorde el pulso. Destaco la interpretación soberbia de la Gagliarda, partita prima e seconda, rítmica, pero donde todas las voces se escuchan. Atentos a este laudista.

Josemi Lorenzo Arribas
Scherzo n°326 2/2017

Non è di troppo un altro disco solista di Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580-1651). Gli hanno dedicato monografie solistiche Hopkinson Smith, Paul O’Dette, Sandro Volta e, più recentemente, Diego Cantalupi.Le vacche sacre hanno aperto nuove strade che adesso altri percorrono, accrescendo benefici.La registrazione è pertinente se suonata con la sensibilità del liutista e tiorbista romano Stefano Maiorana, che interpreta al chitarrone. E’ questa una variante italiana della tiorba, benché all’inizio del XVII secolo si trattasse dello stesso strumento, quasi impossibile per via delle sue dimensioni (il chitarrone ha 14 ordini semplici, sette dei quali bordoni), e, tuttavia, capace di produrre i suoni più vellutati.Utilizzato quindi più per suonare il continuo che da solo, la verità è che non ci si stanca di ascoltarlo.Il programma propone  un ventaglio completo di forme musicali per dare conto della varietà e maestria di Girolamo: preludi, toccate, gagliarde,correnti,passacaglie, balli, madrigali intavolati (Arcadelt e Gesualdo) e perfino una battaglia, il brano nel quale si sviluppano più effetti idiomatici e dall’estensione eccezionale in questo repertorio, di quasi nove minuti.Si esclude il Secondo libro, di arie, per via del carattere esclusivamente strumentale del disco.Mi piace particolarmente Maiorana nei dieci preludi, che raggruppa in coppie. Liberatasi dall’imperativo del tempo, la musicalità può esprimersi al meglio. In questo caso, la musica respira, si ricrea negli ad libitum, si compiace negli ornamenti… e nel suo stesso respiro.La liberazione dal corsetto formale si sente. Ma è brillante anche quando il tempo segna/impietosamente il battito. Evidenzio la superba interpretazione della Gagliarda, partita prima e seconda, ritmica, ma nella quale si sentono tutte le voci. Attenzione a questo liutista.

Josemi Lorenzo Arribas
Scherzo n°326 2/2017

(traduzione di Lucia Costanzo)

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