Toccatas, Ricercars, Capriccios, and Suites. Webb Wiggins, harpsichord and organ. Smithsonian Friends of Music FoM 10-027.28 (2-disc set).
You might consider buying this two-disc set just for the sound. It's that good.
The fact is, when you consider all the people in the world, probably only a small fraction of them buy music of any kind. When you consider all the people who buy music, only a small fraction of them buy classical music. And of all classical buyers, probably only a small fraction of them buy harpsichord music, to say nothing of the music of Johann Jacob Froberger. It's a wonder this set has a chance to sell at all, given the size of its audience. Which is unfortunate, of course, because the music is pleasant and well played, and, as I say, sounds splendid.
Froberger (1616-1667) was a German Baroque composer, organist, and keyboard specialist. He was quite popular in his day, and his work continued to influence musicians well into the eighteenth century. The Libro Quarto of 1656 that we have here is among the last collections of his music that scholars have found. Webb Wiggins, a member of the Smithsonian Chamber Players since 1985 and an associate professor of harpsichord at the Oberlin College Conservatory, presents some of the pieces on harpsichord (one modeled on an instrument produced in Paris, 1667) and some on organ (one constructed on organ-building principles of the early 17th century), depending on the specific need or Wiggins's inclination. In either case, he plays them with the utmost grace and style.
Disc one contains eighteen items. First up are six toccatas, the form being Italian in origin and more seemingly improvisational than the other pieces on the disc. Toccata IV in F Major is especially moving. Wiggins plays most of the pieces on harpsichord but No. V in E Minor on organ, giving it a more-elaborate, ecclesiastical stance.
Next are six ricercars. Wiggins explains that they are "forms which refer to an old style of composition imitative of sixteenth-century sacred polyphony and having long note values, solid rhythms, and solid meters." Thus, he decided to play them on organ.
Six capriccios conclude the first disc. The capriccios are a little more lively than the other works, and Wiggins says they sound good played on either organ or harpsichord. He chooses, however, to play most of them on the organ.
Disc two contains six Froberger suites. Unlike the Italianate music of disc one, the French-inspired suites are dance-based numbers. Therefore, Wiggins chooses to play them entirely on the harpsichord. These pieces are all in four movements, alternating slower with more active segments: Allemande, Gigue, Courante, and Sarabande. The exception is Suite VI in C Major, which begins with a Lamento, a lament for the Emperor's son and heir, who died the year of the composition. Otherwise, Wiggins plays the music in a stately, refined manner, appropriate to the times and eschewing any temptation to rush them along or impose on them any extraneous frills or false excitement.
I suggested earlier you might consider this set for its sound alone. It is indeed one of the best-sounding discs I've heard for a while, the harpsichord music in particular. Recorded in 2002 and released in 2009 on the Smithsonian's Friends of Music label, the engineers miked the harpsichord just far enough away to produce a rich, sweet, mellifluous sound, with a pleasant ambient glow, but not so far away as to obscure any inner detailing of the music. It is without doubt among the finest harpsichord recordings I've heard from any company ever.
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio
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