The Art of the Harpsichord: from Cabezón to Mozart

Byron Schenkman
BSF171

Byron Schenkman has recorded this significant and highly enjoyable disc on eight instruments from the collection at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota. Ranging from a rare anonymous Neapolitan harpsichord of c. 1530 to a 1798 instrument by Joseph Kirckman, the disc covers more than two and a half centuries of the harpsichord’s dominance. Schenkman has made an excellent choice of work to show off each instrument, for the most part eschewing well-known pieces in favour of lesser-known but no less significant ones, which match the chosen instrument extremely well. For example, a Toccata and Passacaglia by the Frescobaldi-influenced Johann Kaspar Kerll, used to illustrate the Giacomo Ridolfi harpsichord of c. 1675, is an inspired choice and Schenkman rises very well to the virtuosic challenges of the extended Passacaglia. The same applies to Gregorio Strozzi’s trill-laden Passacaglia which is played on an octave virginal by Onofrio Guarracino. A spinet by Johann Heinrich Silbermann is put through its paces in a rare piece by Silbermann himself, as well as in a sonata by C.P.E. Bach. It is good to hear three Scarlatti sonatas played on a resonant Portuguese harpsichord by José Callisto, with a particularly exciting rendition of K 427. Schenkman is a versatile player who seems equally at home in this great variety of styles, no small ask in a repertory that ranges from Cabezón to Mozart. Only the Haydn Sonata in D (Hob XVI:24), played on the Kirckman, feels a bit uncomfortable in its overly-fast second and third movements. The disc is accompanied by some excellent notes on the instruments, written by John Koster; there is, however, little information on the actual music which is a pity. In the breadth of its programme, and with some exciting playing, this CD makes an excellent introduction to the harpsichord and its repertory. It also showcases some wonderful historical instruments kept in peak playing condition.

Noel O’Regan