Justin Taylor harpsichord & piano 78:41 Alpha Classics Alpha 721
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Justin Taylor’s La Famille Forqueray now has a sequel of the highest standard. This programme includes a number of Jean-Philippe’s more popular pieces and music by one of his sons, his younger brother and a nephew. In addition there are two tributes: a set of variations on Les sauvages by J-F Tapray and (pause for fanfare and drumroll) Debussy’s Hommage à Rameau. This is played on a lovely 1891 Erard piano, a worthy complement to the fine double-manual harpsichord attributed to Donzelague used for the bulk of the programme.
Such splendid instruments deserve splendid playing and from the multiple-award-winning Justin Taylor they certainly get it. He is not afraid to go his own way with the ‘standards’ (though I did find his tempo for J-PR’s famous gavotte a little ponderous, even if the variations did not disappoint) and unfamiliar repertoire has been well chosen and thoroughly prepared.
Taylor also wrote the contextualising essay (the booklet is in French, English and German) though I doubt that it was his decision to print his biography as a page all in upper case type! This looks quite bizarre and is actually difficult to read.
But the playing and programme are tremendous. Treat yourself!
Keyboard Music from Renaissance Poland
Corina Marti Renaissance harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95556
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his tablature is a significant source of music for the keyboard from the first half of the 16th century. According to the accompanying booklet, it contains 230 pieces of music, two theoretical treatises, and over 250 musical examples “with a didactic purpose”. The music, the majority of which remains anonymous, is mainly in the form of dances, preludes and intabulations of vocal works by European composers such as Josquin, Ribera, Senfl, Sermisy, Brumel and Walter, as featured on this disc, plus several others.
The succession of 39 short pieces in 74 minutes does not make for a riveting listen. The dances and preludes range from the charming to the uninteresting, and the intabulations of the vocal works can seem fussy or stilted compared with the originals, and no more than opportunities for the arranger and/or the performer simply to show off without adding anything.
Nevertheless, Corina Marti makes the best case that she can for every piece, and has evidently taken care over her interpretation of each one. It is a pleasure to listen to her modern “Renaissance” harpsichord after an anonymous Neapolitan model circa 1520, the beautiful sound of which compounds the excellence of her execution of these slight works. And it is also important that recordings such as these are made: beside their value as archival documents, they let us hear what keyboard repertory was being played at a certain time, in a certain place. They also alert us to the existence of these instrumental versions of certain vocal works, and the extent to which they were circulated – a matter of great interest when considering the reception of their composers’ works.
Giulia Nuti, Louis Denis harpsichord 1658
Arcana A 434
Music by d’Anglebert, de Chambonnières, L. Couperin, Froberger, Hardel, Mesangeau & Pinel
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Bauyn Manuscript is a major source of French harpsichord music from the 17th century, containing the music of all the main clavecinistes active in and around Paris at the time. Represented on the CD are a couple of big names, Louis Couperin and Johann Jacob Froberger, and many less familiar composers, such as Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, Jacques Hardel, Jean Henry d’Anglebert, René Mesangeau and Germain Pinel. What is remarkable is that the ‘lesser’ composers sound every bit as talented as the household names, perhaps a function of the fact that a performer would naturally choose ‘the best of the rest’, or perhaps suggesting that many of them deserve closer scrutiny. The wonderful harpsichord Giulia Nuti plays, ‘Le Haneton’ by Louis Denis made in Paris in 1658, couldn’t be more appropriate; it has a rich and varied selection of tones which are superbly captured by the sound engineers. This venerable instrument is tuned to 1/4-comma meantone a=392, which seems perfect for the repertoire, becoming suitably sourer as the composers err into remoter keys and sweetening as they come back home. The virtuosic Ms Nuti clearly has a profound knowledge of ornamentation, and her performances are suitably encrusted with the appropriate decoration. This is a wonderfully evocative CD, redolent of a bygone age of mannered elegance and rhetorical expressiveness.
134:31 (2 CDs in a jewel case)
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ll we know from the extremely minimal liner notes is that Artifoni plays on a copy of the 1702-04 Mietke in Berlin, made by Tony Chinnery in 1998, and tempered Neidhar 1724. This CD was recorded in the Villa L’Oriuolo in Florence while her parents were celebrating their Golden Wedding in August 2016, and so is dedicated to them. We don’t even have a list of the movements within each suite. For full-priced discs at full price, this is pretty thin.
From her playing we learn that she is competent, and creates a full if rather hard sound on her instrument. She doesn’t quite have the fluency and poise of a Richard Egarr, but the rhythms are well-maintained, and it always feels like dance music.And while it rarely feels as if the tempi or the registration are inappropriate, I had a slight feeling of weariness when I had listened to all six suites in a row.She has previously recorded a certain amount of Bach, including the French Suites and some partitas.
Richard Lester harpsichord & fortepiano
Nimbus Records NI 5939
Music by J. S. Bach, F. & L. Couperin, Frescobaldi, Handel, Haydn, Luzzaschi, Merulo, Mozart, Paradies, Scarlatti, Seixas, Soler & Sweelinck
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ichard Lester’s compilation features some of the most popular pieces for harpsichord and fortepiano, together with some lesser-known ones. He relates his programme to Charles Burney’s journey through Europe in 1766, though his own journey starts much earlier, with Luzzaschi and Merulo. He then passes through Frescobaldi, Sweelinck, Froberger and the Couperins, moving on to Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, Seixas, Paradies and Soler, and finishing with Haydn, Soler and Mozart. As such it also represents Lester’s own fifty-year journey through early keyboard music and eight of these tracks have already appeared on Nimbus recordings. He is joined by his daughter Elizabeth on recorder for a couple of Frescobaldi canzonas – some delightful playing by both artists. The keyboard playing is very strong technically and highly assured rhythmically; it comes across as a bit generic, inevitable with such a wide repertory, but there are some highlights like his Froberger Toccata, Sonatas by Scarlatti and Soler, and the Mozart Variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, maman’. Four instruments are featured: a 17th-century Italian copy by Colin Booth, a chamber organ after Antegnati by Antonio Frinelli, a copy of the former Finchcocks Antunes harpsichord by Michael Cole, and the Schantz fortepiano in the Bath Holbourne Museum. This is a welcome disc, which stands as a summation of Lester’s important contribution to the field while providing a good general introduction to early keyboard music on period instruments.
Audax Records ADX13709
HWV427, 435, 438, 467, 469, 563, 580, 584, 609 + music by Babell, J. P. Krieger, Zachow
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he French harpsichordist Grisvard has played continuo on more than forty recordings but this is his first solo CD and an impressive debut it is too. Playing on a copy by Detmar Hungerberg of a Mietke harpsichord, Grisvard revels in this selection of Handel originals, arrangements (by William Babell) and works by his contemporaries Krieger, Mattheson and Zachow. There are two suites (HWV 427 and 438) as well as the big G major Chaconne and a variety of shorter pieces including two preludes which Babell wrote to preface his Handel arrangements. The Fuga in A minor (HWV 609) shows what Handel was capable of in the contrapuntal arena but most of the music here was written more for show. So there are lots of scales and, fortunately, Grisvard is particularly good at them! The continuous figuration lies easily under his fingers and the overall shape of the music comes through the layers of ornamentation, both Handel’s and his own. The brilliance and exhilaration which contemporaries described in Handel’s own playing certainly shines through these performances.
Glen Wilson harpsichord
Veggio & + music by Brunel, Fogliano, Merulo, Parabosco, Segni, Veggio, Willaert & anon
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]len Wilson has been systematically exploring the early keyboard repertory for Naxos for many years. Having devoted a recording to the earliest keyboard publication, the frottole intabulated by Andrea Antico in 1517 (Naxos 8.572983), here he turns his attention to the next print, the Recercari, motetti, canzoni, libro primo of Marco Antonio Cavazzoni. Since it contained just eight pieces he has filled the disc with Cavazzoni’s only other surviving piece, (a ricercar) as well as ricercars by his son Girolamo and by a series of composers including Fogliano, Brunel, Veggio, Parabosco and Merulo. This intentionally provides us with a survey of the ricercar from its origins up to Merulo. The disc is also designated as a celebration of the oldest surviving harpsichord, known to have been owned by Pope Leo X who employed Cavazzoni, and pictured on the cover; though not stated in the notes, this is the Vincentius instrument now in the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. It is not in playing condition and, unfortunately, the liner notes do not tell us anything about the (clearly Italian-style) harpsichord used by Wilson – odd because he stresses in the notes his strong belief that harpsichord, rather than organ, was the instrument of choice in the early 16th century. That apart, Wilson’s notes are extremely well-researched and useful. His playing is equally well-informed and the rather esoteric character of some of the ricercars is well contrasted with the lighter and more virtuosic intabulations. I was particularly struck by an attractive recercada by Claudio Veggio which, as Wilson points out, was in advance of its time stylistically. Wilson is more than up to the technical demands of this and the elder Cavazzoni’s chanson arrangements, and the recording quality is warm and clear. This is a very useful recording of some of the earliest surviving Italian keyboard music, attractively and convincingly presented.
‘für Kenner und Liebhaber’ Sonatas from Collections 1 & 2
Miklós Spányi clavichord
Wq 55/1-3, 5, 56/2,4,6 [=H 244, 130, 245, 243, 246, 269, 270]
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Hungarian performer Miklós Spányi continues his complete edition of C.P.E. Bach’s solo keyboard music with four of the sonatas from the first set ‘für Kenner und Lieber’ (the remaining two appear on another disc in the series played on tangent piano) and three from the second set. Published in 1778 and 1779 these are mature sonatas which, despite what the sleeve notes refer to as their ‘tonal restlessness’, are tightly constructed and very satisfying to listen to. Spányi plays on a Hubert copy made by Thomas Friedemann Steiner, a persuasive instrument for these sonatas. He is alive to all the rhetorical implications of the music as well as showcasing its technical virtuosity. The recording quality is excellent.
Mara Fanelli harpsichord, Olimpio Medori organ
159:13 (3 CDs in card wallet)
Tactus TC 670480
[dropcap]D[/dropcap]ella Ciaia (1671-1755) was a Pisan nobleman who spent sixteen years with the Tuscan fleet, whiling away his time with composition, before moving to Rome and eventually back to Pisa, where he became a priest. He helped design and paid for a famous five-keyboard organ in the church of the Knights of St. Stephen (of which he was a member) in his home city. His Opera Quarta for keyboard, probably published in 1727, contains six sonatas for harpsichord, 12 short Saggi for organ in each of the modes, six ricercars and an organ mass (Kyrie and Gloria only). A Christmas pastorale was later added to a copy of the print now in Berlin. All are included on these three discs; none of it can be called great music but it represents a somewhat quixotic individual take on the keyboard idioms of his time and getting it all on disk was clearly a labour of love for these two performers.
The six sonatas are played on two CDs by Mara Fanelli on a Taskin harpsichord copy by Keith Hill. All are in four movements: a rhapsodic toccata, a canzona based on imitative writing and two contrasting tempi. There is a lot of repetition of figuration, phrases and even individual notes; the occasional bizarre twist does not altogether relieve the tedium, though Fanelli gives an accurate account. The organ music is played by Olimpio Medori on the 1775 Pietro Agati organ in the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta in Pistoia, which proves a very appropriate instrument. The saggi and ricercari are relatively short pieces which show a more disciplined side of Della Ciaia and are effectively registered by Medori. The organ mass is actually an arrangement of parts of the composer’s own setting for four voices, based on the plainchant Missa Cunctipotens, with the addition of an introductory toccata. The alternatim plainchant, sung by soloist Paolo Fanciullaci, is accompanied on organ, using accompaniments taken from an early eighteenth-century Roman manuscript. It is a useful example of how such alternatim masses would have been performed at this period. The Pastorale is an extended sectional piece of nearly 14 minutes, with typical bagpipe imitation as well as special bird effects. There are very comprehensive booklet notes, though track timings are not given. A worthwhile project shining light into a forgotten corner of the repertory.
Béatrice Martin harpsichord
Music by d’Anglebert, F Couperin, Forqueray, Rameau & Royer
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his selection of unusual, exotic and frankly weird items from the colourful output of the French school is played on an absolute beast of an instrument (Couchet 1645/Blanchet 1720) of which Béatrice Martin makes full and stylish use. She plays with great care and attention to detail – ornaments and inégalité are always convincing – though sometimes a little more overt flamboyance might not have come amiss. Even the programme order is more thoughtful than impactful – track 3 would surely make a more arresting start. But it is a really good recital. The booklet is well laid out and the notes are informative though the ‘general music lover’ might find the literary style heavy going in places. At least it’s legible.