by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
On Early Music is a blend of past, present and future. On the face of it the appearance is a deep dive into nostalgia, exploring Francesco Tristano’s love of very early keyboard music in new recordings of Gibbons, Bull, Philips and the pioneering Frescobaldi, who holds a particularly special place in the Luxembourg pianist’s heart.
Yet this is only a small part of the story, for Tristano’s own compositions are included, complementing the older pieces while functioning as more than mere pastiche. In addition to that, some gentle manipulations of studio technology ensure the ‘cover versions’ of the especially early material are given a subtly different sonic clothing.
What’s the music like?
A rather winsome blend of peace and energy. Tristano plays with energy and enthusiasm in the faster music, while his melodic phrasing has a winning instinct when the music gets slower. He also displays a keen air for instinct, bringing an improvisatory feel to some of this music that makes it feel fresh off the page.
On early music is especially good when the keyboard tones are softened, or when extra rhythm is added as on Ground. Toccata is brisk, plenty of positive energy, the first part of a trilogy spending its time in the tonality of D. The second is a winsome set of thoughts on a Galliard in D by John Bull, while the third, a Fantasy in D minor by Peter Philips, allows for more florid musical thoughts.
Bull’s Let ons met herten reijne has a stately opening paragraph before moving into faster material, with the spirit of the dance invoked. Tristano has a nice lift to his playing when the dance rhythms are more obvious in this collection, and he brings this into his own writing too. His compositions have an enjoyable freedom, allowed to wander through different musical byways in a fantasia style. Serpentina meanders in the form of a free flowing stream, while On Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Quattro correnti works in the percussive sound of the hammers on the keyboard. Frescobaldi himself appears as a complement, Aria la folia. The final Aria for RS, is a beauty, slow but very meaningful.
Does it all work?
Yes. Headphones reveal extra layers to Tristano’s sonic thinking, with some really nice touches of detail in the meticulously mixed final cut. The playing is affectionate, beautifully phrased, and the warmest compliment you can give to Tristano’s own material is that it is not always obvious which of the recordings are early and which are late.
Some piano recordings of early music end up being rather dry to the touch, but not this one.
Is it recommended?
Yes. Initially it looked as though this album might be a step backwards in its musical slant, but it actually continues Francesco Tristano’s onward journey through some fascinating musical pastures
You can hear more clips and read more information about the release, as well as purchasing options, on the Sony Classical website.