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Frescobaldi X 3 - Booth, Stembridge & Lester

Frescobaldi's harpsichord music has recently proliferated on CD, and I found his toccatas being taught at a recent master class at the Royal Academy by the veteran Kenneth Gilbert; it seems that the freedom of Frescobaldi's innovations is appealing nowadays, as against the rigour of Bach which has tended to be dominant in concert and recording.

Colin Booth sets five of the free Toccatas - 'schizoid and personal' - against sets of variations, finishing the groups off with some more contrapuntal Canzone and Ricercare, on a harpsichord he'd made, modelled upon a two-keyboard instrument in Nuremberg's Germanisches National Museum..

Christopher Stembridge has the Twelve Toccatas straight through on a Nicolas Celini harpsichord (Narbonne 1661) and I found this enchanting. He has the advantage of sfz's booklet presentation, which escape from the restricive jewel-case and are always attractive and artistic (designs by their sackbut expert, Adam Woolf).

Here we have from the player a great deal about Frescobaldi's innovations, and the instrument Stembridge plays..

Richard Lester is up to Volume 3 of another of his intégrales (q.v. Scarlatti on 38 discs), playing a mixed programme on harpsichord and virginals made between 1540 & 1620, a similar mixture to his Volume No 2.

Lester's analyses and background information are authoritative, and Nimbus has an essential video which demonstrates the subtleties of split-key tunings and is online at www.frescobaldi.org.uk.

It is also available as a disc on request - on my computer the download shows up with too narrow a "vision aspect" - what a pity they couldn't put it in as a 'bonus' disc?

If you have a large collection of JSB, you ought to treat yourself to at least one of these. It is really impossible to advise on choice amongst these three. They're all enjoyable, but most collectors will only want one or two, I guess.

Peter Grahame Woolf