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Vivaldi: Concerti pour deux clavecins

Gwennaëlle Alibert, Clément Geoffroy
67:29
Encelade ECI 602

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] was surprised that I had never heard of Vivaldi’s concertos for two clavecins – of course, there are Bach’s transcriptions of Vivaldi for two harpsichords and strings, and indeed transcription turns out to be the key to this CD. Frustrated by the lack of music by Vivaldi for harpsichord, Gwennaëlle Alibert and Clément Geoffroy have transcribed a selection of his concertos and trio sonatas for a pair of harpsichords. This would appear to be a singularly random thing to do until you read François Couperin’s instructions on how to transform the orchestral music of previous generations into music for two harpsichords. We should bear in mind that, before the days of electronic music reproduction, to hear Vivaldi’s music in the later Baroque you had to assemble a chamber orchestra and persuade them to play this outdated repertoire. Much easier to devise a way of reading it on two harpsichords with one of your mates! The results sound quite unlike anything else you are likely to hear on the harpsichord, wonderfully dense tinkling textures through which you follow the melodic lines like an inquisitive hobbit through Fangorn Forest. Bach’s transcriptions for massed harpsichords such as the charming concerto for four harpsichords spring to mind, but in these transcriptions, all the lines including the orchestral strings are taken by the two keyboards. I found the results absolutely delightful and a feast for the ears – a million miles perhaps from Vivaldi’s original intentions, but – if we are to believe Couperin and others – a sound which might not have been all that alien to the ears of the later Baroque musician. Alibert and Geoffroy use a 2012 Marc Ducorner harpsichord after Ruckers and a 2013 Michel Chabloz harpsichord after the legendary Edinburgh le Taskin, which together produce a wonderfully tinkling ensemble sound. Not everybody’s cup of tea but I love it!

D. James Ross

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Continuum Scarlatti:Ligeti

Justin Taylor harpsichord
69:20
Alpha Classics ALPHA 399

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you like your Scarlatti harpsichord music spiced with Ligeti, then this is the CD you have been waiting for. Issued under the umbrella of ‘outhere music’ (presumably ‘out there’ rather than ‘out here’), these performances by the young French harpsichordist Justin Taylor aim to let the music of two vastly different periods engage in a musical dialogue. Taylor’s playing of the Scarlatti repertoire is stunningly good – I am less able to judge his playing of the Ligeti but this also seems deeply idiomatic and effective. Indeed, although I am not a natural fan of this type of recontextualization, I found myself drawn into this project in spite of myself. So in fact, for me, the Ligeti did comment on the Scarlatti and vice versa, although I do wonder whether such dialogues are better designed for concerts rather than CDs – how often will I want to hear this dialogue repeated? Anyway, as I have said, the Scarlatti performances stand very much on their own merits as well, so it would be entirely possible to ‘program out’ the Ligeti should you so wish, and there would still be a highly enjoyable programme to listen to. Grouping the individual Scarlatti movements into three-movement pseudo-sonatas, Taylor seems to find the ideal balance between momentum and rhythmical freedom, never seeming to linger just for the sake of it and always maintaining momentum. He plays a Ruckers harpsichord made in 1638 (and adapted in 1763 by Hemsch) which has an appropriately bright tone for the Scarlatti – and, for that matter, also seems to suit the Ligeti well.

D. James Ross

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Fasolo: Magnificat, Salve Regina, Ricercates

Federico Del Sordo organ/harpsichord, In Dulci Jubilo, dir. Alberto Turco
128:34 (2 CDs in a case)
Brilliant Classics 95512

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he music on these two CDs is taken from the huge compendium of organ music for liturgical use, the Annuale by Giovanni Battista Fasolo, now thought to have been published before 1635 and so to have influenced a number of similar publications. Sometimes in alternatim with the women’s choir In Dulci Jubilo, Alberto Turco plays the splendid 1589 Antegnati organ in Verona Cathedral and the equally fine 1509 Montefalco organ at Trevi, which survived renovation in the 18th century to be restored in the 20th and is probably the oldest working organ in the world. Both instruments have a striking immediacy and pungency, partly due to their authentic tuning and their extreme age, but they are marvellously evocative in their accounts of Fasolo’s music. Full details of the registrations Father Turco uses are provided, which will be appreciated by organ fans, but these are CDs which will appeal beyond the limited world of organists. The music is tremendously evocative of the age in which it was produced, and by using these venerable instruments Alberto Turco brings it vividly to life. A few of the pieces are played on harpsichord as it is argued that during Lent this instrument may well have stood in for the organ, although curiously the harpsichord pieces are recorded in an altogether closer acoustic. In any case, the two historic organs remain the stars of these informative CDs.

D. James Ross

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C. P. E. Bach: Voyage sentimental

Mathieu Dupouy, 1791 Gräbner pianoforte
66:32
Label-Hérisson LH17

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or this second CD of music by C. P. E. Bach, Mathieu Dupouy has chosen two sonatas, three fantasias, and five rondos from the years 1783-87 (the composer died in 1788). I have always had “a thing” for Bach’s keyboard music; as Dupouy’s rather literary booklet notes seek to explain, there is an undeniable ability to suspend time, to linger on an unusual chord, as if the composer is thinking, “which way next?” Even if he goes the way you expect the majority of the time, it is the frisson of excitement on those occasions when he doesn’t that really brings a piece to life, and Dupouy – with an impressive range of touch – exploits those very moments, lingering almost too long… That ability to draw one into a performance (even a recorded one!) is something quite magical. Although Bach was clearly a virtuoso on the instrument, it is the ever-changing proto-Romantic textures that are most interesting here and I wish his music were more widely appreciated – not just on review sites like this one.

Brian Clark

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J. S. Bach: Partitas (Clavier-Übung I) BWV 825-830

Menno van Delft clavichord
Resonus RES10212
74:01

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his two-CD recording of Bach’s Partitas was made on the Christian Gotthelf Hoffmann clavichord made in 1784 in Roneburg and now in the Cobbe collection at Hatchlands Park in Surrey. This is a substantial unfretted instrument, and the admirable liner notes include an essay on the Partitas and their construction and numerology with a persuasive advocacy of the clavichord as the most suitable instrument on which to play them by van Delft and in addition a note on the Hoffmann clavichord by Peter Bravington who restored it in 1998.

The performances are a delight, and the limpid clarity of the music-making makes the choice of a clavichord seem entirely right. Van Delft quotes Johann Friedrich Agricola as saying that Bach played his six violin solos often on the clavichord, and added as much harmony as he thought necessary. That is the effect of some of these delightful performances – listen to the Gigue in the D major Partita (CD 2.7) for example.

This is an elegant, well-prepared and finely presented recording, and I hope it will establish its performer, well-known in Holland where he teaches in Amsterdam, as a preeminent performer of Bach on the clavichord. I recommend it without reservation.

David Stancliffe

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Bach: The mono tapes

[Friedrich] Gulda clavichord
60:17
Berlin Classics 0301063BC

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is an extraordinary CD, re-mastered from some old and very decayed mono tapes, of the classical/jazz pianist Friderich Gulda playing Bach on two highly amplified clavichords in the late 1970s. You can see a number of Gulda’s clavichord performances on Youtube, where the sound is more ‘normal’. But in the performances of a number of Preludes and Fugues for Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, Zweiter Teil numbers 5, 23 and 17 on a Widmayer clavichord and numbers 10, 20 and 24 on a Neupert an extraordinary sound world is conjured up. Sometime – as in the opening Prelude and Fugue in D – the sound is so brittle and the playing so fast that the performance sounds just like a digital soundtrack – which of course it is! In other pieces, like the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (BWV 903) Gulda brings out the rhapsodic nature of the music, and his digital fluency seems less distracting.

As it is, his thumping performances – he apparently used to practise on a clavichord in his hotel rooms before concerts to improve his technique – and his incessant use of the clavichord’s vibrato on longer notes (even in fugue subjects) and cadences give me little pleasure. Although I can see that these tapes reveal interesting material about one performer’s preparation of Bach, there is little awareness of any historically informed techniques in the performances or choice of instruments.

David Stancliffe

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Jacquet de la Guerre: Pièces de clavecin Livres 1, 2

Elisabetta Guglielmin harpsichord
116:36 (2 CDs in card wallet)
OnClassical OC17091b

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen, some years ago now, I first reviewed a CD of Jacquet de la Guerre’s harpsichord music it was a case of ‘who?’ and ‘where has she been hiding?’. Now her music is well established in the CD catalogues though not yet core repertoire in concert. (But then, how many harpsichord recitals are there?) This release offers the four suites from her 1687 livre, followed by the two published in 1707 as being suitable also for the ‘viollon’, though that option is not explored here. The music is played in its published order which means that CD1 is entirely in minor keys, which some may find hard going. Each suite of Book 1 opens with an un-barred prelude, through which Elisabetta Guglielmin finds very convincing routes. It is also in these movements that the chosen temperament makes its most piquant contributions. The four traditional dances follow, and then each group ends with one or more ‘others’ – menuets, gavottes etc. This player is not to be rushed which does mean that the many ornaments can be gracefully brought into the lines. I did sometimes feel, however, that at these tempi her legitimately expressive flexibility teetered just a bit too close to waywardness.

The movements of the 1707 volume are more expansive, with an eight-movement D minor suite followed by six movements in G major. This may be the place to start for any new to the style – the chaconne at the end of the first suite is a summary of the 17th-century claveciniste’s art. The booklet (Eng/Fr/It) places Jacquet in her context and the instrument is a double manual, rich-toned ‘after Ruckers’ copy (1636 original). And on almost the smallest of points – I’d love the last note to be a fraction longer: the music stops, but lacks a sense of ‘end’.

David Hansell

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Dandrieu: Pièces de Caractère

Marouan Mankar-Bennis harpsichord
70:00
encelade ECL1702

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are some sumptuous harpsichord sonorities on offer here, occasionally so sumptuous that the dampers don’t quite cope at the ends of pieces. But that doesn’t mar in any way enjoyment of this lively recital in which the instruments (quasi-Couchet and quasi-18th-century French) are used to the full, lute stop and 4’ only included. I like the way in which the programme groups the pieces as an ‘opera for harpsichord’ rather than simply as selections from Livres I-III in published order and the spoken announcements of the section titles in de la Guerre  work well – brief and very well timed. The chosen temperaments also play their part in keeping the ear engaged, some choice F minor moments in Le concert des Muses  being highlights. The notes (Fr/Eng) by the player stop just short of self-indulgence and self-congratulation and for once the English translation is idiomatic – just one small misprint. In a year when Couperin is to the fore, this is an enjoyable reminder that he was far from being the only claveciniste  kid on the block.

David Hansell

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Recording

L’Héritage de Rameau

Ensemble Les Surprises, dir. Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulais, Yves Rechsteiner organ
54:54
Ambronay AMY050
Rameau (arr.), Rebel, Francoeur

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ow then, concentrate! From 1755 to 1772 the resident organist of the Concert Spirituel was Claude-Bénigne Balbastre. In 1768 he would appear to have played a ‘Suite de Symphonies’ for organ and orchestra by Rameau. However, performing material for such a work no longer exists and this programme is an attempt to re-create what it might have sounded like. So we have three modern organ concertos in mid-18th-century style ‘on themes by Rameau’ (famous themes, too), which are separated by orchestral dance suites drawn from the dramatic works of Rebel and Francoeur. The whole premise is not unreasonable. Rameau’s music was core repertoire at the Concert Spirituel and the programmes at this time often featured arrangements of various kinds. And it is splendid to hear these enthusiastic and clean performances on a ‘real’ organ – a three manual Clicquot of 1782. The registrations used are those recommended by Corrette for concertos and these – reed and tierce heavy in the allegros – do not always blend well with the strings. I wonder if, against an organ with serious ‘oomph’, the ensemble (33221) simply needed to be bigger? The booklet (Fr/Eng) includes three concise but lively essays. This is quite a short CD by most current standards, but it made me smile.

David Hansell

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Recording

Andrea Antico: Frottole Intabulate per sonare organi Libro Primo, Roma 1517

Maria Luisa Baldassari spinet, clavichord, harpsichord, clavicymbalum, organ
57:44
Tactus TC 480101

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] have to say that the music on this disc did little for me, though I do think I’d have enjoyed it more had I known the vocal originals here elaborated by ‘scales, thrills [sic] and passing notes’. But historically this music is highly significant – the first keyboard music ever to be printed. Its presentation is also thoughtful with sensitive playing on five instruments: spinet (modern copy, 1571 original); fretted clavichord (ditto, 1475); clavicembalum (ditto, 1450); harpsichord (ditto, 1697); and organ (original, 1533). All use ¼ comma mean-tone tuning except the clavichord which is Pythagorean. So organologically it’s all fascinating. Though the English ‘translation’ is rather a trial, the essay is interesting on the composer/arranger, the techniques he uses and the arrangements’ general context and purpose.

David Hansell

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