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Dr. Bradley Lehman

Dayton, Virginia
bpl@umich.edu

Reviews written for American Record Guide

On average, I write twelve reviews per issue of American Record Guide.

I cannot reproduce the full texts of the reviews here, as those are the property of the journal. Here are the review headers and some excerpted sentences, to make it easy to find my reviews in the printed version.

Enjoy the music!

Sep/Oct 2015

The King's Men: Fasch, Nichelmann, CPE Bach
Jermaine Sprosse, hpsi, fp
Klanglogo (Rondeau) 1505--64 minutes

This is spectacularly good. Young keyboardist Jermaine Sprosse plays sonatas and variations by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), and sonatas by two of his colleagues: Christoph Nichelmann (1717-1762) and Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800). (...)

CHAMBONNIERES: Harpsichord Pieces 1
Karen Flint
Plectra 21501 [2CD] 151 minutes

(...) The present volume 1 has the 60 published pieces, out of about 150 that survive. Chambonnieres had them engraved in 1670, the first harpsichord music by anyone to be preserved in that manner. The remaining volume 2, which will be a three-disc set, is already recorded and in process. That will give us all the rest of the manuscript pieces. (...)

DIEUPART: Harpsichord Suites
Fernando Miguel Jaloto
Brilliant 95026 [2CD] 102 minutes

Charles Dieupart (c1667-c1740) was a French harpsichordist and violinist who spent much of his career teaching and performing in England. (...) The young Johann Sebastian Bach liked these suites enough to make himself a handwritten copy of them, perhaps coming from his brief time of study with Georg Bohm. (...)

HANDEL: Harpsichord Suites, vol 3
Gilbert Rowland
Divine Art 21225 [2CD] 130 minutes

Handel's published Eight Great Suites of 1720 are well-known. There is another rather sloppy volume from 1733, The Second Collection, with eight more suites and a few individual pieces. Gilbert Rowland's set here, "volume 3" of a now-complete cycle of three 2CD packages, stays mostly outside that core. (...)

Pleasures of the Harpsichord
Anonymous, Byrd, Sweelinck, Purcell, Frescobaldi, Scarlatti, Louis Couperin, Philidor, Francois Couperin, Daquin, Corrette, Rameau, Bach, Handel, Mozart
Olivier Baumont, hpsi
Bayard Musique 308430--50 minutes

This is a disc to promote tourism to the 16th-century Chambord castle, south of Paris, and a showcase for four harpsichords built 1994-2006 by Reinhard von Nagel. During harpsichordist Olivier Baumont's three-month residency at this castle, von Nagel and a recording team brought in these instruments to take advantage of the way they sound in the castle's acoustics. (...)

Claviorganum
Thomas Schmogner
Paladino Music (Naxos) 0033--56 minutes

This is a co-publication by the Kunst Historisches Museum of Vienna (khm.at), to demonstrate what they claim to be the only playable "claviorgan" from the 18th century. (...) The most interesting piece to me is the Military Sonata by Ferdinand Kauer, with musical gestures to take us scene by scene through a Russian attack on the Ottoman Empire, 1787. The fantasias by Mozart, CPE Bach, and Joseph Preindl are engaging enough, with frequently-changing registrations. Preindl's piece is based on several themes from The Creation by Haydn. Schmogner adds tasteful ornamentation to Mozart's Adagio for Ben Franklin's glass harmonica. There are three aimless Beethoven pieces that sound like counterpoint exercises, and three others by his teacher, Albrechtsberger. (...)

Nov/Dec 2015

BACH: Preludes, Fugues, Fantasias, Suites, Capriccio
Aapo Hakkinen, hpsi
Naxos 573087--79 minutes

Finnish harpsichordist Aapo Hakkinen gives us a generous recital of less-familiar music by Bach: the suites BWV 818, 819, and 832, the E-major capriccio 993, fantasias 917, 918, and 922, and an assortment of short preludes and fugues. (...) Along with Hakkinen's imaginative playing, a selling point here is the famous instrument. It was Igor Kipnis's "Big Red" harpsichord by Rutkowski and Robinette, 1970. (...)

BIRD: The Oriental Miscellany (Airs of Hindustan)
Jane Chapman, hpsi
Signum 415--74 minutes

This is a major find, unexpected and charming, "perhaps the first work of East-West fusion", as the notes assert. William Hamilton Bird (c1750-c1804) spent many years in India, studying the music by Hindustani singers. He then transcribed their music as simple harpsichord solos for the young ladies of the British aristocracy, adding a left-hand part. (...)

DUPHLY: Harpsichord Pieces
Aya Hamada
LiveNotes 7784 (CDBaby)--72 minutes
646-431-3762

This is a terrific solo debut by a young Japanese-American harpsichordist trained at Juilliard and in France. (...) Another draw here for harpsichord enthusiasts is the instrument: the "Lefebvre 1755" that Martin Skowroneck built in the 1980s for Gustav Leonhardt, in its first recording since Leonhardt's death. (...)

MUTHEL: Harpsichord Concertos
Marcin Swiatkiewicz, Arte dei Suonatori
BIS 2179 [2CD] 127 minutes

This premiere is like finding five more harpsichord concertos by CPE Bach. (...)

PLATTI: 7 Sonatas
Elaine Funaro, hpsi, fp
Wildboar 9901--77 minutes
888-BWV-1079

This release of seven sonatas, selected from the extant 18 by Giovanni Benedetto Platti (1697-1763), is not new. Elaine Funaro recorded this in 1997 (fortepiano) and 1998 (harpsichord), engineered by Christopher Greenleaf and issued in 1999 by Wildboar. (...)

SMITH: Harpsichord Lessons; HANDEL: Richard I Overture
Julian Perkins, hpsi
Chandos 807--78 minutes

John Christopher Smith (1712-1795) was one of Handel's composition assistants near the end of his life. This set of "Six Lessons" is his Opus 3, published in 1755, and Julian Perkins gives it its premiere recording here, from sessions in 2011. (...)


Jan/Feb 2016

BACH: Partitas 1, 2, 6
Edna Stern, p
Orchid Classics 100050--71 minutes

Edna Stern has a terrific resume with great teachers, and she is an energetic musician with plenty of ideas. She produces an attractive piano tone, and makes the fingerwork sound easy. Her performance of Bach's music here is disappointing, though. (...)

SOLER: 120 Sonatas
Barbara Harbach, hpsi
MSR Classics 1300 [14CD] 1042 minutes (17 hours, 22 minutes)

(...) In the present attractively-packaged set of CDs, we get all 120 of Soler's sonatas that were collected in Samuel Rubio's edition from 1957 forward, but no Fandango. (...) This is singularly inexpressive harpsichord-playing, a refusal to use the techniques that build a colorful touch. (...) I hear no magic here, not even a card trick. It's a convenient way to have all this music in a small and well-produced package, plus a decent analytical essay by Harbach, if that's what you want for your $100.

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Lars Vogt, p
Ondine 1273--77 minutes

This is a bland and plain-spoken performance of Bach's set of 30 Goldberg Variations, staying far away from the edges of the beaten path. (...)

Mersenne's Clavichord: 16th & 17th Century France
Terence Charlston
Divine Art 25134--69 minutes

(...) Terence Charlston's performance is miraculous, with everything perfectly in place, and yet not sounding cautious. This is top-level work. There are no extant French clavichords of this vintage, so builder Peter Bavington worked from a 1636 drawing by Marin Mersenne to build one. Charlston chose (and, in some cases, arranged) this brilliant program to show what would have been played on it in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The result is one of the best clavichord albums I have ever heard. (...)

Cembalo Cantabile: Bach, Fiocco, Rameau, Scarlatti
Tatjana Vorobjova, hpsi
Amati 2602--61 minutes

(...) This is a general-interest recital of early 18th century music. True to the title of the album, "Cembalo cantabile", Vorobjova plays the harpsichord with a singing tone. (...)

En Sol: for the Sun King
Rebecca Maurer, hpsi
Genuin 15352--71 minutes

The composers here are d'Anglebert, both Couperins, Jacquet de la Guerre, le Roux, and Royer. The album notes describe king Louis XIV as dancer and supreme warmonger, dressed as the sun or Apollo, and the ways in which his interests influenced the music written for his court. Harpsichordist Rebecca Maurer has assembled this program to follow the formal layout of a ballet de cour. 21 of the pieces here are in G minor.... (...)

CIMAROSA: 88 sonatas
David Boldrini, fp
Brilliant 95027 [2CD] 148 minutes

These are the complete extant keyboard works of Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801), primarily a composer for the stage. 88 sonatas fit into a two-disc set? Yes, they are very short, and David Boldrini skips all the repeats. 82 sonatas are for piano, and the remaining six are for harpsichord, but all are played here on fortepiano. (...)

Mar/Apr 2016

RAMEAU: Harpsichord Pieces
Blandine Rannou
Alpha/OutHere 309 [2CD] 138 minutes

The complete set of Rameau's harpsichord music was Blandine Rannou's first solo recording, made in the summer of 2000 and issued as Zig Zag Territories 10301, a 4-CD set. The solo music occupied the first three discs, and the ensemble version of "Pieces de clavecin en concerts" was on the fourth. The present set by Alpha is a budget-priced reissue of only discs 2 and 3 of that. (...)

20th Century Harpsichord: Poulenc, Francaix, Martinu, Durey
Christopher D Lewis, hpsi
Naxos 573364--60:05

Christopher D Lewis is a specialist in modern harpsichord repertoire, and a researcher into the instrument's use in pop music. This is his second recording for Naxos. (...)

BACH: Preludes & Fugues
Rinaldo Alessandrini, hpsi
Naive 30564--70:33

The program collects some stray bits from Bach's workshop, having 15 assorted preludes paired with 15 assorted fugues. Most are short and simple, except for the grander B minor pair at the end of the program: S 923 and 951, which is one of the two fugues by Bach on the same theme by Albinoni. (...)

GAGNON: 4 Seasons; Les Turluteries Suites 1+2
Jean-Willy Kunz, hpsi; Orchestre symphonique de la Vallee-du-Haut-Saint-Laurent, Daniel Constantineau
Atma 2715--65:17

(...) Andre Gagnon (b1936) in his thirties capitalized on Joshua Rifkin's "Baroque Beatles Book" fad of 1965, weaving popular tunes into fake-Baroque music; Gagnon's music was for the French-speaking market in Quebec. The "Turluteries" suites 1 and 2, from 1972, are obviously based on Bach's last two orchestral suites. Gagnon incorporated tunes of the Quebecois singer Mary Travers "La Bolduc" from the 1930s. "My Four Seasons" from 1969 are little three-movement concertos built on 1960s pop tunes by four other Quebecois singers. (...)

FRESCOBALDI: Keyboard Pieces 1
Rinaldo Alessandrini, hpsi and organ
Arcana/OutHere 388 [2CD] 146 minutes

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) first published this book of keyboard music in 1615, and reissued it with an appendix of many additional pieces in 1637. His brilliant music is a cornerstone of the keyboard repertoire, and it has inspired many generations of composers and players. (...) The recording is from April and September 1992, when Alessandrini was only 32. This appears to be its fourth issue, beginning in 1993. (...)

May/Jun 2016

Because of distribution delays from the CD supplier, messing up the production cycle, my six reviews submitted for this issue were all deferred to the Jul/Aug issue.

Jul/Aug 2016

BACH: Violin Sonatas
Erich Hobarth, v; Aapo Hakkinen, hpsi
Aeolus 10236 [2CD] 120 minutes

Beyond the expected set of six sonatas, S 1014-19, this hybrid SACD recording includes the three probably-later sonatas S 1021-23. Overall, the easily-flowing interpretations offer few surprises. (...)

BACH: Chorales & Chorale Preludes
Anna Christiane Neumann & Anja Kleinmichel, p
Genuin 15375--69:33

Those seeking a devotional record will find this a beautiful and undisturbing one. "Bach Without Words" is arranged mostly as piano solos, and five of them are for piano four hands. Before most of the chorale preludes, Neumann plays a simpler four-voiced version from the Bach/Riemenschneider collection of 371 chorales. There are more than a dozen arrangers here beyond Busoni, showing the richness of this genre where ensemble music and organ solos have been adapted to the piano. (...)

BYRD: Harpsichord Pieces
Colin Tilney
Music and Arts 1288--62:33

This "Contrapuntal Byrd" program gives an enjoyable hour of some of William Byrd's longest pieces. About half of the selections are from "My Ladye Nevell's Booke". (...) All the music evokes a serene world different from our own, and is well worth spending meditative time in. (...)

BACH: Well-Tempered Clavier I
Celine Frisch, hpsi
Alpha 221 [2CD] 103 minutes

I appreciate that this is very well done, but I don't fancy the results. It's a supremely difficult composition that sounds easy for Celine Frisch. Her Apollonian performance is perfectly polished, which is impressive in her technique and thoroughness, but it makes the music sound less interesting. (...)

DUPHLY: Harpsichord Pieces
Yves-G Prefontaine
Atma 2716 [2CD] 148 minutes

Prefontaine plays a personal selection of about half of Duphly's music, shuffling the four books together and grouping the pieces by key. His playing sounds ordinary. It is clean and there is flexibility to the phrasing, better than being metronomically stiff, but it doesn't bring much special or memorable to the pieces. (...)

ANGLEBERT: Harpsichord Pieces
Charlotte Mattax Moersch
Centaur 3455--79:14

This would be a suitably captivating place to start for those who do not know this composer. Jean-Henri d'Anglebert (1629-91) was one of the harpsichord superstars of 17th century France. (...) Charlotte Mattax Moersch gives a fine sense of air and space to her delivery. Everything is fit perfectly into place, flowing naturally, without ever seeming too fast or slow. (...)

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Erich Traxler, hpsi
Paladino 0073--77 minutes

The graphic design of the package is not very attractive, but the music is. Erich Traxler, an Austrian harpsichord professor aged 33 at the time, gives an interpretation that is mostly hard-edged and on the exciting side, instead of going for restfulness. (...)

TELEMANN: 6 Overtures
Anke Denner, hpsi
Genuin 16411--64 minutes

Anke Dennert plays these six three-movement Ouvertures on the well-known and much-copied 1728 Christian Zell harpsichord. (...) Telemann published these keyboard solo pieces in 1745, but they have not attracted much attention. They are in his imitation French/Italian/Polish blended style. (...)

Gaul Me Maybe: French Baroque
Daniel Schlosberg, p
Centaur 3477--51 minutes

Half the program is a remarkably good performance of Bach's French Ouverture, S 831. The rest is an assortment of short French Baroque pieces by d'Anglebert, Royer, Marais and Rameau, played with Schlosberg's compelling musical insight but infected by miscalculations. (...)

Fitzwilliam Virginal Book 4
Pieter-Jan Belder, hpsi
Brilliant 95254 [2CD] 133 minutes

Belder's project of recording the entire Fitzwilliam Virginal Book started in 2010. This volume 4 is up to his reliably high standard. (...) Belder's sweep through this music is impressive, and so is his meticulous fingerwork at the smallest levels. Something I always appreciate in Belder's musicianship is the way he makes every phrase sound confident and inevitable. (...)

British Harpsichord
Christopher D Lewis
Naxos 8.573668--71 minutes

Christopher Lewis's Naxos series of modern harpsichord music continues. (...) The obvious selling point here is "Howells' Clavichord" by Herbert Howells, filling a niche with music not otherwise available on harpsichord. (...) The music by Lennox Berkeley, Gavin Bryars and John Jeffreys is played on the same Pleyel harpsichord that Lewis used on the French/Martinu album. (...) The pieces by Jeffreys and Berkeley are charming and witty neoclassical trifles.

BACH: 2-4 Harpsichord Concertos; Triple Concerto, S 1044
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Trevor Pinnock, Marieke Spaans, Marcus Mohlin, hpsi; Concerto Copenhagen
CPO 777681 [2CD] 106 minutes

(...) This is so good that I'd recommend it to friends who don't have any other recordings of the pieces, for the joy of the music played energetically. Concerto Copenhagen ("CoCo") and the harpsichordists make everything sound natural and vital, with moderate tempos and no eccentricities. (...)

BACH: Well-Tempered Clavier I
Christophe Rousset, hpsi
Aparte Music (Harmonia Mundi) 120 [2CD] 125 minutes

Over a month of listening to this, I haven't found enough to enjoy. The main problem is that the harpsichord's tone is harsh and lacks bloom. (...) Rousset's interpretation is mostly moderate and straightforward, without much emphasis of detail. (...)

ROMAN: Keyboard Sonatas 7-12; AGRELL: Sonata 2
Anna Paradiso, hpsi and clavichord
BIS 2135 (SACD)--77 minutes

The packaging makes this look humdrum, but that first impression was wrong. This is keyboard musicianship so superlative that I stopped the player after 20 minutes and immediately placed an order for the other volume. It's that attractive and expressive. Anna Paradiso obviously listens very closely to her instruments as she plays them, and this makes her interpretations vivid. She makes the music sound freshly improvised by a creative genius. (...)

Masterworks & Miniatures: Renaissance Venice
Richard Lester, org and hpsi
Nimbus 5931--78 minutes

The music is by Willaert, Buus, Padovano, Merulo, Guami, and both Gabrielis: ricercars, canzonas, toccatas and intonations. (...) I admire this album for the way it presents plenty of rarely-played music. This is a didactic package worth having, for those interested in this repertory. (...)

GALUPPI: 6 Harpsichord Sonatas, op 1
Andrea Chezzi, hpsi
Brilliant 95253--54 minutes

Baldassare Galuppi was a theater man known for his operas and oratorios. He wrote these keyboard sonatas in the 1750s when he was in his mid-40s. There are six sonatas here, plus a bonus single-movement sonata in G not belonging to this opus. (...) The compositions are pleasant, not very challenging to listen to or to play. They could be mistaken for Telemann's music. (...)

Journey
Trevor Pinnock, hpsi
Linn 570 (SACD)--68 minutes

Trevor Pinnock at age 70 takes a "Journey" through 200 years of harpsichord music. (...) The Scarlatti sonatas here are outstandingly good. (...) The Handel Chaconne in G and "The King's Hunt" by Bull also catch him at his best, as if the music is being conducted with big gestures for a theater full of enthusiasts. (...)

PICCO: Original Sin
Cesare Picco, clavichord; Sezione Aurea Baroque String Quintet
Ishtar 35--40 minutes

The disc is mastered very loudly. The Baroque string quintet sounds harsh, except at low volume. Within that, the clavichord sounds abnormally loud in the mix. The string parts are mostly ostinatos, not melodically interesting. Composer Cesare Picco noodles ornamental lines and punctuating chords on his clavichord, on a Wurlitzer electronic piano, or sometimes both at the same time. (...)

BACH: Violin Sonatas
Leila Schayegh, v; Jorg Halubek, hpsi
Glossa 923507 [2CD] 95 minutes

Schayegh and Halubek have been playing these sonatas together for ten years, and it shows. This is like a championship figure-skating routine. Their fluent gestures challenge the laws of gravity. (...) This is a must-hear album. Some might not fancy the amount of freedom in the improvisations, but it sounds essential to me, the way they have integrated all this. (...)

Sep/Oct 2016

MOZART: Piano Sonatas 1-6
Roberto Prosseda, p
Decca 4812632 [2CD] 117 minutes

It's the cycle of Mozart's first six piano sonatas, written in his late teens. (...) If Roberto Prosseda continues what he's started here, I want to hear him play all the rest of Mozart's sonatas. Prosseda adds ornamentation, extends some passagework for extra bars, changes figuration or melodic shapes, and interpolates short cadenzas. (...)

BACH: Inventions & Sinfonias
Thomas Ragossnig, hpsi
Solo Musica 236--52 minutes

Bach's Inventions and Sinfonias, otherwise known as the Two- and Three-Part Inventions, are staples of keyboard and compositional pedagogy. Bach intended them as such, preparing them as a textbook for his children and his Leipzig pupils. (...) Ragossnig plays them on harpsichord, but recordings are available on every other keyboard instrument and in arrangements for strings, winds, guitars, and more. (...) The novelty here is that Ragossnig has re-sequenced all thirty pieces, instead of going upward chromatically twice, as we usually hear it from Bach's last versions. (...)

SCARLATTI: Sonatas, vol 4
Pierre Hantai, hpsi
Mirare 285--76 minutes

It's music to bring a smile and tapping toes. Hantai plays 17 sonatas here: Kirkpatrick numbers 212, 247, 144, 133, 204a, 279, 533, 405, 402, 403, 381, 208, 456, 457, 302, 201, and 45. (...) Hantai's performance manner keeps tempos basically steady, filling the space with small expressive nuances on top of a "hot" touch where he plays the notes very short. It makes the music sound energetic. (...)

ALBERO: Recercatas; Fugues; Sonatas
Alejandro Casal, hpsi
Brilliant 95187 [2CD] 109 minutes

Alejandro Casal deserves admiration for learning and presenting this fourth-rate music by Sebastian de Albero (1722-56), as few other keyboard players are likely to spend much time on it. The recercatas are meandering single-line pieces without much for the left hand to do. The sonatas have some crunchy cluster harmonies like those of Soler and Scarlatti. (...)

Varietas
Jean-Christophe Dijoux, hpsi
Genuin 16420--82 minutes

Harpsichordist Dijoux won the 2014 International Bach Competition. I haven't heard the playing of his rivals from that contest, but it's easy to hear in this debut album why his artistry earned a prize. Dijoux has tremendous control of time, both in his phrasing and in the subtle art of not playing the notes together. His expressivity is impressive, too. He keeps the music interesting and makes it his own. (...)

CLERAMBAULT & MARCHAND: Harpsichord Pieces
Yago Mahugo
Brilliant 94790--77 minutes

This pairing of French Baroque composers is an apt choice, fitting neatly onto a single CD. All of their other harpsichord music is lost, leaving only these few suites by each from 1699-1704 and a few isolated pieces. It's a pity, because these compositions that did survive are very satisfying to play and to listen to, near the top of the French harpsichord repertoire. (...)

BACH, CPE: Variations
Andrea Coen, fp
Brilliant 95305 [2CD] 146 minutes

On paper, this is a good bargain at Brilliant's low prices. It's not a treasure, though. CPE Bach was a phenomenally creative composer, but he wasn't at his best in these pieces. It sometimes sounds more like finger exercises than music. (...) Coen gives fluent and reliable performances where few surprises occur. It sounds like a valiant effort in a lost cause. (...)

ZIPOLI: Keyboard Pieces
Carlo Guandalino, org; Laura Farabollini, hpsi
Brilliant 95212 [2CD] 148 minutes

Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), after studying in Bologna and Rome, published his thin volume of organ music in 1715. He then became a Jesuit missionary, and was set to become a priest, but he died of tuberculosis at age 38 before being ordained. His organ music sounds several generations behind its time, except for using seventh chords and some surprising chromaticism. (...) The second disc, with Zipoli's complete extant harpsichord music, has four suites and two sets of variations. (...)

FROBERGER: Harpsichord music, all
Bob van Asperen
Volume 3: Aeolus 10064 [2CD] 97 minutes
Volume 4: Aeolus 10074--75 minutes

Froberger was one of the best early-keyboard composers for the intensity of personality he expressed. (...) I had missed the van Asperen series the first time around, as my Froberger shelf already looked full enough. (...) It was an error to have missed van Asperen's through these years, because the performances and the booklets are so good. At hand for this review, volume 3 gives us Suites 7-12, 15, 17 and 21. Volume 4 has Suites 20, 27 and 30, a toccata, and several often-recorded character pieces, plus two newly-discovered suites. (...)

Nov/Dec 2016

BACH: 6 Trio Sonatas; Passacaglia & Fugue
Anthony Newman, pedal hpsi, org
Soundset 1076--66 minutes

The best thing here is the Passacaglia and Fugue, played on pedal harpsichord. (...) The trio sonatas are a loss, unfortunately. Newman plays the middle movements on pedal harpsichord, but the outer movements on an unidentified organ. This choice is jarring, eccentric, and becomes too predictable. (...)

RAMEAU: Harpsichord music, all
Simone Stella
OnClassical 130 [2CD] 155 minutes

Stella plays with moderate tempos, offering an interpretation that is free of eccentricities, full of delicacy and grace. The overall character is gentle geniality, not aggression. (...) There are production slip-ups, though. The sound is the biggest letdown. (...)

Journey around Europe
Richard Lester, hpsi, fp, org; Elizabeth Lester, rec
Nimbus 5939--80 minutes

Lester plays a general-interest recital, mostly of well-known pieces that are available in dozens of other recordings. The program is mostly sonatas, toccatas, and variations. (...) He has good flair for playing the music of Scarlatti, Seixas, Soler, and Mozart. Some of the other performances sound less imaginative, especially in Bach's D-major Toccata (BWV 912) and Handel's "Harmonious Blacksmith" variations. (...)

FROBERGER: Keyboard Pieces vol 7: Capriccios
Bob van Asperen, org
Aeolus 10701 [SACD] 79 minutes
Vol 8: Toccatas
Bob van Asperen, hpsi, org
Aeolus 10134--77 minutes

I don't have much to add to my enthusiastic review from a few months ago (J/A 2016), where I greeted the reissued volumes 3 and 4 of this terrific series. The new volumes 7 and 8 complete it. (...) In volume 8, van Asperen plays most of the toccatas on harpsichord, but three on organ, and he fits Froberger's two vocal pieces (not toccatas) into the sequence for interesting variety. (...) Turning to volume 7, the music is more arcane. Froberger's capriccios are tougher compositions to listen to than his toccatas. (...) As in the earlier volumes, the scholarship of this Froberger Edition is brilliant and the presentation is deluxe in every way. Bravo to van Asperen and Aeolus for completing this important set over the many years it took!

COUPERIN, L: Harpsichord Pieces 3
Bob van Asperen
Aeolus 10124 [SACD] 71 minutes

This is part of van Asperen's complete survey of the music by Louis Couperin (c1626-1661), who was part of a large family of expert musicians. (...) This volume 3 is from 2007, released 2013. The two remaining volumes of the five-disc series are yet to come, with ETA unknown. (...)

CLEMENTI: Piano Sonatas 4
Susan Alexander-Max, fp
Naxos 572664 --78 minutes

History and Mozart have not been kind to Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). His music is little-known, except for the ubiquitous six piano sonatinas of Opus 36 that young children study. (...) There are about 110 sonatas and sonatinas. Vladimir Horowitz and a few others have championed these for revival, but without much traction. (...) Susan Alexander-Max got 19 of them recorded, including the four here in this Naxos volume 4, but she died in January 2016 before the release of this album. (...) Alexander-Max plays all of these with great technique and drive, bringing out expressive nuances as appropriate. (...)

Pleasures of the Imagination
Sophie Yates, hpsi
Chaconne 814--75 minutes

This is a genteel program of English music by colleagues and competitors of Purcell and Handel, without involving them. The composers are Blow, Clarke, Croft, Greene, Jones, Arne, and Johann Christian Bach. (...) Everything is well-chosen for variety and to give an overview of the harpsichord in 18th-century England. Sophie Yates plays gracefully on two French-styled double harpsichords, both built and serviced by Andrew Garlick. (...)

MOZART: Harpsichord Duets
Basilio Timpanaro & Rossella Policardo
Stradivarius 37045--69 minutes

(...) These brilliant musicians play an arrangement of the Fantasy in F Minor, K 608, originally for a mechanical clock. The program also includes a set of variations in G, K 501, and three sonatas for piano duet. Performed on harpsichord, all this music is lucid and rhythmically exciting. (...) Their tempos are mostly quick, and articulations crisply precise. (...)


Jan/Feb 2017

BACH, CPE: Piano Pieces
Giovanni Togni, tangent piano
Dynamic 7762--67 minutes

This is a representative selection from CPE Bach's collection of music marketed to "connoisseurs and amateurs": four sonatas, three rondos, and a fantasia. The draw is the unusual instrument, a tangent piano, built in 1797. (...) Giovanni Togni is a phenomenally good player, on the evidence of this recording, sensitive to the surprises in the music. (...)

BACH: Goldberg Variations; BUXTEHUDE: La Capricciosa
Christine Schornsheim, hpsi
Capriccio 5286 [2CD] 105 minutes

Christine Schornsheim has recorded the Goldberg Variations twice: 1994 and 2016, both for Capriccio. (...) I like the older performance better, with an easy flow that does not make the music seem intellectualized. (...) The biggest difference between the two albums is the inclusion of a second composition in the new one. (...)

COUPERIN: 2-Harpsichord Pieces, vol 2
Jochewed Schwarz, Emer Buckley
Toccata 258--66 minutes

(...) Most of these pieces are recording premieres as arranged for two harpsichords. Where there are only three lines of music, both harpsichordists play the bass line in unison, giving it added power. (...) The performances are engaging and lively, sounding like friends having a good time. Schwarz and Buckley have a great sense of style. (...) Overall, this is graceful and pleasant, an important addition to the Couperin discography. (...)

COUPERIN: Chamber Pieces
Aulos Ensemble
Centaur 3487--74 minutes

(...) We get three of the Concerts here (3, 4, and 8), plus some harpsichord pieces arranged by Aulos for their diverse instrumentation. (...) The Aulos performances sound enthusiastic. (...) The addition of theorbo in the basso continuo team gives a nice crunch. (...)

DELLA CIAIA: Keyboard music, all
Mara Fanelli, hpsi; Olimpio Medori, org
Tactus 670480 [3CD] 160 minutes

Azzolino Della Ciaia (1671-1755), (...) seems an enterprising and impressive fellow. Unfortunately, his keyboard music is ugly, boring, dilettantish, and frequently absurd. (...) Imagine music that sounds like floor sweepings dumped into pickle juice and garnished with fake whipped cream. And then, it repeats. (...) Everything is well-documented in this deluxe package, and the sound and performances are excellent, for what that's worth.

FISCHER: Harpsichord Suites
Tony Milan
Brilliant 95294--79 minutes

JCF Fischer (1656-1746) (...) published a Musicalischer Parnassus of nine suites, each dedicated to one of the Muses. Four of those are here, along with three of the flower-bush suites. (...) It's music worthy of more attention and recordings, especially Suite 1 with its harmonic sophistication that reminds me of Marchand's music. (...) Millan tunes badly for two of the three he chose (Suites 5 and 8). (...) I'd recommend this disc anyway, despite these caveats on the intonation. Most of the performance still sounds good.

FORQUERAY: Harpsichord Pieces
Blandine Rannou
Alpha 322 [2CD] 158 minutes

Justin Taylor
Alpha 247--79 minutes

Antoine Forqueray's music is for viola da gamba solo with basso continuo accompaniment. (...) Blandine Rannou's is an extensive rearrangement, based only loosely on the published edition. (...) This release of Alpha 322 is a reissue of Zig Zag Territories 80301, recorded in November 2007. (...) Justin Taylor is now 25 and was the Bruges competition winner in 2015. (...) His playing is brilliant, with a tendency to go for sweet tenderness. (...) He also rearranges the music considerably (he studied with Rannou), but confines most of his elaborations to the repeats. (...) Everything he does here illuminates the music, making it sound both noble and humble. (...) This is a must-hear album.

FROBERGER: Keyboard Music
Magdalena Hasibeder, hpsi and org
Raumklang 3503 [2CD] 140 minutes

Yannick Varlet, hpsi and org
Continuo 117--78 minutes

23 Suites, Tombeau, Lamentation
Glen Wilson, hpsi
Naxos 573493 [2CD] 127 minutes

Magdalena Hasibeder's album has the title "Froberger's Travels", tracing his cosmopolitan career across Europe. She intersperses his music with that of ten other composers whose music he knew. (...) Hasibeder has an uncommonly expressive touch on the harpsichord, making these some of the best recorded performances I have heard of this repertoire. (...) Yannick Varlet offers a variety of toccatas, canzonas, suites, capriccios, ricercars, a fantasia, the tombeau for Blancrocher, and Froberger's meditation on his own future death. (...) Varlet's performances handle the music with good poise and sensitivity, not doing anything extreme. (...) Glen Wilson's set is a little bit disappointing. His playing and research are excellent, but the choice to cut most of the repeats is the deal-breaker. (...) This 2CD set would be a good low-priced introduction to Froberger's music for listeners who don't intend to collect a bigger set. (...)

GALLES: Harpsichord Sonatas
Michele Benuzzi
Brilliant 95228--79 minutes

The Catalonian composer Josep Galles (1758-1836) didn't get an entry in the New Grove dictionary, and there is only a short paragraph about him in Baker's. This CD presents 13 of his 23 extant harpsichord sonatas: 1-4, 6-9, 11, 12, and 15-17. (...) Other than Rafael Puyana's recording of a few sonatas, Benuzzi's appears to be the only recording. It fills a repertoire gap, and Benuzzi plays with a sensitive touch. (...) I recommend this recording to listeners who like to explore obscure Spanish sonatas beyond Soler's and Scarlatti's. The music is attractive. (...)

SOLER: 6 Concertos for 2 Keyboards
Philippe Leroy and Jory Vinikour, harpsichords
Delos 3491--74 minutes

There have been various recordings of Antonio Soler's six concertos on two organs, two pianos, or two harpsichords. This is the best one I have heard on harpsichords. LeRoy and Vinikour make the music sparkle with lively articulation and good humor. (...) Enthusiastically recommended.

Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, sel
Ton Koopman, hpsi
Capriccio 8002--60 minutes

This is a reissue of a recording from 1986: a decent collection of greatest hits from the Fitzwilliam manuscript, but nothing special. (...) Program notes are minimal, and the sound lacks high overtones.

Mar/Apr 2017

BACH FAMILY: Music
Werner Ehrhardt, Concerto Koln; Gerald Hambitzer, hpsi
Capriccio 8007--73 minutes

This is a reissue of a 1988 recording. The original Capriccio release had these same six compositions, but in a different sequence. (...) Concerto Koln plays on period instruments. All the performances here sound alert and the ensemble has an excellent blend within its string sections. The program is a fine single-disc introduction to these four composers. (...)

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Veronique Gobet, p
veroniquegobet.ch or CDBaby (no number)--45:15

(...) Her performance sounds earnest but not competitive. (...) She has trouble keeping track of the beat against the rhythms of dotted notes. She has other technical problems with the notes when the hands are interlocked or crossed. (...) The awkwardness here isn't Bach's fault; he did specify a two-manual harpsichord for this piece, not a single-keyboard piano, and the hands don't have to crash together. (...)

BACH: Well-Tempered Clavier
Daniele Boccaccio, org
Brilliant 95157 [4CD] 266 minutes

The performance is Apollonian: once each piece starts with a given tempo and profile of articulation, it goes all the way to the end with no surprises or risks along the way. (...) The tonal quality is beautiful, and the recording is clear. (...) The organ is tuned in "Werckmeister III" temperament, from a 1691 publication. (...) Many of Boccaccio's tempos are fast, and articulations short. It's hard for me to avoid the impression that he's blasting through the music and not giving the farthest out-of-tune intervals time to speak their presence. Whether intentionally by him, or not, this recording would be a great way to gaslight people into ignoring everything that's musically and historically wrong with Werckmeister III. (...)

CHAMBONNIERES: Harpsichord Suites
Franz Silvestri, hpsi
Brilliant 95339 [2CD] 89 minutes

This low-priced set is a suitably enticing introduction to this composer, "the father of French harpsichord music". Franz Silvestri plays about a quarter of Chambonnieres's music here, assembling eight short suites by selecting four to six available pieces in each key: C, D, D minor, F, G, G minor, B-flat, and A minor. (...) The present package is quite good, and I'd be glad to hear more from Silvestri. (...)

COUPERIN: Harpsichord Pieces 1
Mark Kroll
Centaur 3513--62 minutes

American harpsichordist Mark Kroll has started this Couperin cycle with Ordres 4, 6, and 18, which have some of the composer's most popular pieces in them. (...) This is a strong start to a promising series, with good sound and all the repeats. The instrument is by Jacques Germain, 1785, part of the terrific collection at the National Music Museum, Vermillion SD. (...) One aspect that I especially appreciate in Kroll's delivery is his strong projection of dance, playing as if to a big room with real people moving and grooving to the music. (...) I like Michael Borgstede's recording of these three Ordres better. (...) Where Kroll keeps the music striding along firmly, Borgstede finds more opportunities to finesse the phrasing gently. (...)

KAPSBERGER: Intavolatura
Stefano Maiorana, chitarrone
Fra Bernardo 1603777--64 minutes

(...) Kapsperger (c1580-1651) published six books of music for chitarrone (like a theorbo or bass lute), along with some for other plucked instruments, and vocal music. Books 2, 5, and 6 are lost. Stefano Maiorana has selected pieces from the other three books (1604, 1626, and 1640) to give a survey of the diverse styles, and admittedly appended a coda of his own to one of the pieces. (...) I find it relaxing to turn off my brain and let this spontaneous-sounding and often amorphous music wash over me. It's difficult to guess what is coming next in it, but it all sounds secure and clever. (...) Let's hope for sequels from this terrific player. There isn't much competition for this album as it fills a repertoire niche. (...)

LE ROUX: Harpsichord Pieces, all
Pieter-Jan Belder and Siebe Henstra
Brilliant 95245 [2CD] 105 minutes

Little is known about Gaspard Le Roux, the man, but he published a single book of harpsichord music in Paris, 1705. (...) There are secondary melodic lines and figured-bass symbols for improvised accompaniments. Belder and Henstra have taken full advantage of this option, playing all of the suites as duos. Their interaction is delightfully responsive as they accompany one another with further improvisation and embellishment, making the music sound like spontaneous fun. (...) Belder plays one of the suites again at the end of the program, as a solo, and includes an Allemande and Courante that they did not arrange as a duo. (...)

SOLER: 6 Concertos for 2 Keyboards
L'entretien des clavecins
Brilliant 95327--57 minutes

The duo "L'entretien des clavecins" is Agustin Alvarez and Eusebio Fernandez-Villacanas, both from Spain. (...) These French-styled harpsichords have beautiful tone, but they don't fit Soler's music as well as the Italianate ones played by LeRoy and Vinikour (Delos, J/F 2017). It's like the difference between singing mostly with long-sustained vowels, vs the percussive effects of strongly-articulated consonants. Alvarez and Fernandez make the music sound noble and even sometimes somber, while LeRoy and Vinikour make it more playful and include all the repeats. (...)

Parthenia (1613): Byrd, Bull, Gibbons
Catalina Vicens, hpsi; Rebeka Ruso, treble and bass viol
Carpe Diem 16298--65 minutes

Alina Rotaru, hpsi
Sono Luminus 92208--53 minutes

This book is important to music history as England's first publication of harpsichord music. (...) Vicens plays six different harpsichords: three antiques, and three modern reproductions. Rotaru plays on a bright-toned single-manual harpsichord by Thomas and Barbara Wolf. (...) Characterizing the bigger picture: Vicens finds a courtly world of the gentle lute, much of the time, while Rotaru plays as if for a public wedding in a big space. Both these complementary approaches sound convincing. I'm glad to have these two contrasting recordings, both very well played and bringing out such different views of the music.

Variazioni: Italian harpsichords from the Smithsonian collection
Webb Wiggins
Smithsonian Friends of Music 10-209--65 minutes

This album is a showcase for two Italian harpsichords in the Smithsonian Institute: one by Giusti (Rome, 1693) and the other by DeQuoco (Florence, 1694). (...) Wiggins's performance is superlative, filled with subtleties of timing and variety of mood. He is responsive to the surprising twists and turns in the music, highlighting details. He also conveys an effective dramatic shape for each piece. (...)

May/Jun 2017

BACH: Toccatas, Fantasias, Preludes, Fugues, Pastorale
Peter Watchorn, pedal hpsi
Musica Omnia 512 [3CD] 165 minutes

(...) I have heard most of Ahlgrimm's recorded Bach, and all of Watchorn's, over many years. His interpretations are obviously inspired by his study with her in Vienna, and by her recordings. There is intense concentration, plus a grand rhetorical freedom to make the phrases speak in long lines. The tempos give the listener time to get everything. (...) Interspersed among the toccatas, Watchorn plays Bach's big preludes and fugues and fantasias, including the Chromatic Fantasy (S 903). He improvised the elaborations of chordal sections at the recording sessions, so it sounds fresh and immediate. (...)

GEMINIANI: Keyboard Music
Francesco Baroni, hpsi and org
Stradivarius 37051 [2CD] 107 minutes

This is a compilation of Francesco Geminiani's odds and ends, his "Second Collection" pulled together into a 1762 book and printed by a "Mrs Johnson" in London--the widow of John Johnson, who had printed many of Geminiani's earlier books. It was his last published work. (...) As far as I can find, the 1762 book of harpsichord music has not been recorded before. (...) Baroni makes the music sound appropriately lively and pleasant. His interpretation adheres to current norms of subtle time-bending for emphasis. (...) There is a 2016 paper by Rudolf Rasch sorting out Geminiani's extant sources. It is freely available from his web site. Along with that research, the present well-produced recording by Baroni is timely and important, filling a gap. I just wish it would inflame my emotions more than it does. (...)

VIVALDI: Four Seasons
with Concerto in G minor (RV 156), Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro (RV 169)
Shunske Sato, v; Concerto Koln
Berlin Classics 300829--51 minutes

with PANUFNIK, R: The Four World Seasons
Tasmin Little, v; BBC Symphony
Chandos 5175 [SACD] 63 minutes

Shunske Sato's audacious interpretation is a high-wire act full of risks. (...) There are phrasing breaks in eccentric places, extremes of tempo (fast and slow), and playing over the bridge for icy effect. In the peasant's dance part of Autumn, Sato plays far out of tune, presumably deliberately--it's effective but jarring. The oddities all make sense, at least in retrospect. (...) Tasmin Little's program has new music composed for her by Roxanna Panufnik (born 1968), daughter of Andrzej Panufnik. It is a 21-minute violin concerto with string orchestra and a Tibetan singing bowl. It has portamentos that sound far-eastern, and the solo violin spends a lot of time playing very high notes. The music is mellifluous without being tonal, and the hushed moments are enchanting. (...) In Vivaldi's concertos, Little (...) generally takes an outgoing approach, making the music lively and cheerful. (...) My favorites for "The Four Seasons" are Lamon, Chandler, and Carmignola for period instruments, and St John for modern. (...)

Ancestral Touch: Volans, Glass, Fargion, Klausmeyer, Swayne
Elaine Funaro, hpsi; others
Alienor 1208--47 minutes

This album is from 2001, more recently distributed with the title "Music of Africa for Harpsichord" on Arabesque. Its notes say that Funaro chose "composers inspired by Africa in some way or other--be it the dances, landscape, or animals". (...) I have the older recording of Volans's "White Man Sleeps" in this two-harpsichord arrangement, played by the composer and Robert Hill. (...) Funaro and her ensemble sound more cautious and don't build up the steam across these five dance movements. Still, it is well worth hearing, as is this whole program.

Fitzwilliam Virginal Book 5
Pieter-Jan Belder, hpsi
Brilliant 95308 [2CD] 124 minutes

In July/August 2016, I greeted volume 4 enthusiastically. (...) I have little to add to that assessment for this similarly welcome volume 5. It has 68 pieces by Munday, Tomkins, Tallis, Morley, Richardson, Hooper, and Anonymous. They are mostly simple and short. (...)

Orpheus Descending
Mark Edwards, hpsi
Early 7778--67 minutes

It is rare for a mixed-recital harpsichord album to provide an overwhelming emotional experience. This is one that does. Canadian harpsichordist Mark Edwards has pulled together one composition from each of eight composers, building a powerfully gripping program of extraordinary intensity. (...) The composers are Sweelinck, Reincken, Kerll, Froberger, Fischer, Pachelbel, Kuhnau, and Bach. (...) I'll leave some surprises for discovery by the reader who buys this must-hear disc. Anything can happen in a performance this great, and it does.

Jul/Aug 2017

BACH FAMILY: Harpsichord Concertos
Jean Rondeau, hpsi; Dynastie
Erato 0190295888466--76 minutes

(...) If Bach and his sons also played Zimmermann's coffee house with this tremendous zest, the patrons scarcely needed to buy caffeine. (...) That said, I also feel that something is missing. The delivery is impressive, yet one-dimensional, when the notes are fast and short and loud. There could be more finesse and grace. (...) I'd like to hear more volumes of Bach concertos from this team, especially by the sons. Those are harder to get elsewhere in performances this extraverted.

BACH: Anna Magdalena's Notebook
Cipriana Smarandescu, hpsi; Furio Zanasi, baritone
Continuo 113--71 minutes

(...) Smarandescu tries too hard to make the short pieces impressive, often playing too fast or over-ornamenting them in ways that don't make sense. (...) The last 15 minutes are for a suite in G by Christian Petzold, dated 1726. That gives important context for the two minuets that everyone has heard many times before (especially the parents of Suzuki violin or piano students). (...) Unless you must have this Petzold suite, I'd recommend putting your Magdalena money toward older recordings where the music is performed with more grace. (...)

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Beatrice Rana, p
Warner 190295880187--78 minutes

Alexander Puliaev, hpsi
Perfect Noise 1601--79 minutes

(...) Rana's touch is often delicate, but without making the music seem precious or fragile. She also lets the music dash forward robustly. Nothing sounds difficult. Her control of tempo rubato sounds natural, as a reaction to Bach's creativity. (...) She's better at this piece than Glenn Gould was at 22, and she doesn't hum. (...) This CD should be essential for anyone who cares about Bach or the piano. (...) Alexander Puliaev plays a Mietke copy by Volker Platte (2012). (...) Everything in the sound and performance is reliable perfection, with no surprises. (...) Puliaev lets Bach's music speak plainly without a personalized profile, as if it's something to be appreciated without getting too close to it.

BACH: Violin Sonatas, S. 1014-1019
Chiara Zanisi, v; Giulia Nuti, hpsi
Arcana 426 [2CD] 95 minutes

The violin is too loud and has a rough tone. (...) The tempos are mostly fast, and don't bend much. Zanisi and Nuti have excellent dexterity and intonation, but the music needs more than that. Their interpretation sounds impersonal and boring. (...)

DOWLAND: Lute Pieces
Michele Carreca
Continuo 110--61 minutes

(...) Dowland was famously melancholy, but Carreca makes him sound bright and cheery. He often brings out the soprano line louder than the inner parts. His performances hold my interest well, partly because he makes things sound emphatic. The dance pieces have lively articulation, without being too fast. There is serenity where appropriate. (...) Frankly, it's hard to overdose on Dowland's music. (...) The compositions are brilliant.

FROBERGER: Harpsichord Pieces
Anne Marie Dragosits
Divox 71602--64 minutes

The parade of new Froberger albums continues, celebrating the 400th anniversary of his birth (1616) and 350th of his death (1667). This one by Anne Marie Dragosits offers a typical selection. (...) Her performance is expert, but this album hasn't grabbed me as essential. The tempo rubato is in the right places. The phrasing is fine. I don't hear much expressive intensity. (...) This harpsichord has a "short octave" layout in the bass, not fully chromatic. That makes it easier to reach some big stretches, but it also forces Dragosits to change some of the bass lines. (...)

HANDEL, et al: Handel in Ireland
Bridget Cunningham, hpsi
Signum 478--73 minutes

The programming seems promising. It's part of a series about Handel's travels. The theme is his visit to Ireland in 1741. (...) Unfortunately, the execution makes this project disappointing. Cunningham registers her harpsichord heavily. This gets tiring, and the treble unisons are distractingly sour most of the time. Her touch doesn't have much variety in the way she releases notes. The interpretations are dull. She often makes the music sound clumsy with rhythmic insecurity. (...)

HAYDN: Harpsichord Sonatas 26, 31, 32, 37, 46; Fantasia 4; Capriccio
Francesco Corti
Evidence 31--82 minutes

These sonatas are usually played on piano, but are here on harpsichord. It brings out the rhythm most prominently. Corti has sorted out the way Haydn sets up logical sequences of events, and then throws surprises at us. He has terrific comedic timing, inserting small pauses to make sure the listener pays extra attention to the next gesture. (...) It's a brilliant performance with plenty of drive and subtleties. (...)

PESCETTI: Keyboard Pieces, all
Paolo Bottini, org, hpsi
Brilliant 95438 [2CD] 142 minutes

There are 20 extant sonatas by Giovanni Battista Pescetti (1704-66), who was mostly a vocal composer and opera director. (...) On the evidence of this recording, Bottini is a fantastic organist. (...) It sounds like Antonio Soler's music, but is less memorable. The attractive performance makes this set worth hearing. The registrations are colorful, sometimes even humorous. (...)

SCARLATTI: 15 Sonatas
Johannes Maria Bogner, clavichord
Fra Bernardo 29208--73 minutes

The novelty here is the use of a clavichord, instead of a harpsichord or fortepiano. Bogner's roster of Scarlatti sonatas includes Kirkpatrick numbers 30, 32, 119, 132, 133, 141, 175, 184, 185, 193, 208, 209, 238, 239, and 513. (...) Bogner keeps it vigorous, with a cheery good humor and strong dynamic accents. (...)

Il Cembalo di Partenope
Catalina Vicens, hpsi
Carpe Diem 16312--67 minutes

This CD is spellbinding. Catalina Vicens has the uncommon ability to take the listener to a different world within seconds. She has a way of making her performances sound both casual and intentional at the same time. This is difficult to describe. It sounds free, yet definitely going somewhere important. The instrument is from Naples, c1525, and is the world's oldest playable harpsichord. (...) Highest recommendation. (...)

A Madame: Divertissement pour Adelaide
Julien Chauvin, v; Olivier Baumont, hpsi
Aparte 138--53 minutes

The program celebrates princess Adelaide, daughter of Louis XV. Everything recorded here is a premiere. The only familiar composers are Rameau and Balbastre. The others are Simon Simon, Antoine Dauvergne, Jean-Pierre Guignon, and Jean-Baptiste Cardonne. (...) This is Adelaide's violin. (...) This violin has an uncommonly sweet and full tone after its restoration in 2010. The harpsichord is a Blanchet from 1746, restored in 2007. Chauvin and Baumont play them beautifully, doing nothing challenging or odd. It sounds as if they are simply enjoying the music and being in that room, re-creating these diversions from about 1770. (...)

The Sound of Hamburg: Schop, Weckmann, Baltzar, Telemann
Gabriele Steinfeld, v; Anke Dennert, hpsi
Genuin 17462--70 minutes

This CD is co-produced by a museum of Hamburg history, promoting tourism to this port city. The violin and harpsichord were built there. (...) The composers also worked in Hamburg for parts of their careers. (...) Steinfeld and Dennert have a violin-harpsichord ensemble named La Porta Musicale. They play with lively articulation and good taste. (...)

Sep/Oct 2017

BACH: Goldberg Variations; HU: Afterthoughts
Chih-Long Hu, p
Blue Griffin 423--76 minutes

(...) He plays Bach's variations in a lively and simple manner, as joyous entertainment. It's play. The interpretation is not overtly provocative or profound, but he just lets the music flow easily. He keeps his articulations, rhythm, and dynamics consistent within each variation. (...) It seems that Hu is simply enjoying playing music for himself, and inviting the listener to smile along with him.

BACH: Goldberg Variations, Italian Concerto, 2 Toccatas, Harpsichord Pieces
Richard Lester, hpsi
Nimbus 5946 [2CD] 153 minutes

This is volume 1 of Richard Lester's series of Bach's solo harpsichord pieces, with a two-disc set to be released each year until 2023. I respect this venture, but I won't be collecting its volumes. (...) His dexterity is fine, but this downbeat-oriented approach puts the breaths in the wrong places and ruins the syntax. (...) The instruments and Nimbus's recording sound good. I wish the performance in front of the microphones had been more compelling. This volume is dedicated to the memory of George Malcolm and Fernando Valenti, both of whom played Bach's music with more elan and better phrasing than this. (...)

MATTHESON: Harpsichord Suites (12)
Gilbert Rowland
Athene 23301 [3CD] 172 minutes

Mattheson published these 12 suites in 1714, when he was 32. (...) Rowland does well to embellish the music where it's thin, taking it far beyond the notation. There is opportunity to make it sound more French using graces and swinging the rhythm, but Rowland constrains the style to sound stolidly German. (...) The only other complete recording I've seen is by Colin Booth (not reviewed). From the samples I've heard, I like Booth's playing better. (...)

SCARLATTI: Harpsichord Sonatas 5
Pierre Hantai
Mirare 326--78 minutes

Volume 4 (S/O 2016) was so good, it impelled me to go buy the boxed reissue of volumes 1-3, available at a budget price. The new volume 5 continues this winning formula. The sonatas this time are K 28, 87, 124, 157, 205, 211, 238, 252, 253, 277, 388, 401, 474, 475, 547, and 551. (...) The sound and the booklet notes are again excellent.

George Malcolm, harpsichord
SCARLATTI: 16 Sonatas; BACH: Italian Concerto, Chromatic Fantasy
Eloquence 4820506--72 minutes

The World of George Malcolm: Pieces by Bach, Daquin, Paradies, Rameau, Couperin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Templeton, Malcolm
Eloquence 4825181--75 minutes

BACH: Harpsichord Concertos 1+2; Art of Fugue
Eloquence 4825187 [2CD] 135 minutes

Music for Four Harpsichords
Eloquence 4824745--57 minutes

Harpsichord Concertos by Arne, CPE Bach, JC Bach
Eloquence 4825117--74 minutes

George Malcolm (1917-97) was an organist, choirmaster, improviser, composer, pianist, harpsichordist, and conductor. (...) This set of new releases restores to the catalogue many of his Decca recordings from the 1950s and 1960s. Many had been out of print, or not released on CD before. (...) The musicianship is overwhelming. I've had these Bach recordings on LP and CD since I was a teenager and have always found them inspiring. (...) These Eloquence issues are budget-priced. All have informative and appreciative notes about George Malcolm's career and instruments.

Conversations
Marina Minkin, David Shemer, hpsi
Omnibus 5012--70 minutes

Don't judge a CD by blue crayon cover art. This delightful program with vivid sound has been my favorite item in this month's assignment. (...) The music has an attractive blend of crunchiness, humor, dissonant counterpoint, and nearly-tonal melodies. All of it is by living composers who contributed their own program notes for the booklet, except for the long-dead Sergei Prokofieff. (...) Marina Minkin and David Shemer are very well matched, passing the melodies and the rhythmic figures back and forth as if with one mind. (...)

Inspired by Bach: Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Busoni
Kenneth Hamilton
Prima Facie 61--58 minutes

Kenneth Hamilton is a Scottish pianist. All the compositions in his recital are pianistic elaborations on Bach's music or name. They are obvious choices that have been recorded many times before. I like the idea, but I haven't become enthusiastic about this release. Fans of Liszt's style might find more to enjoy here than I do. (...) Hamilton's performance [of Busoni's music] merely seems like ordinary piano-playing without much shape or mystery. (...) I have no sympathy for the two Liszt pieces here: long, chromatic, muddy, dull, and full of unresolved tritones, until they turn vulgar with banging octaves. (...)

Nov/Dec 2017

BACH: English Suites
Alessandra Artifoni, hpsi
Dynamic 7793 [2CD] 135 minutes

(...) She inserts a very long cadenza into the concerto-like opening movement of Suite 2. This is the start of the set (sequenced 2, 1, 5, 3, 4, 6). It notifies the listener that the whole performance will be filled with imaginative experiments. She plays all repeats, and her ornamentation is lavish--that's the distinguishing feature of this performance. Her right hand sometimes departs so far from the written text that it sounds like an especially creative singer. (...) Some of Artifoni's elaboration sounds to me like unnecessary graffiti, but it's fun to hear what she comes up with.

BACH: French Overture; Partita 6
Elizabeth Wright, hpsi
Centaur 3537--60 minutes

(...) She is excellent at both these pieces, playing in both the French and Italian styles on a Flemish double-manual harpsichord. (...) The performance is enjoyable and recommendable. Wright includes an essay about emotions. That's also how she plays the music, seeing herself as an actress with the task of moving the passions. (...) In the last two movements of the partita she plays Bach's controversial rhythms exactly as notated, carefully preserving the distinctions of the duple figures. (...)

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Pieter-Jan Belder, hpsi
Brilliant 95471--78 minutes

(...) Without bringing anything provocative into his interpretations, he dependably makes the listener comfortable and attentive. He draws attention not to himself but to the music. His imagination serves the composer. (...) Belder is now looser with the rhythms of the fastest notes, avoiding any sense of sounding mechanical or impersonal. This flexibility and freshness is the biggest improvement I hear since his second recording. That varied articulation and the rhythmic inflections make the piece seem more natural. It's like the irregularities seen in a growing plant. (...) This new recording is quickly becoming one of my favorite interpretations of the Goldberg Variations. I listed some others in reviews earlier this year, writing about this composition in almost every issue.

BACH: Violin Sonatas
Apollo Ensemble
Centaur 3527--66 minutes

I've liked this so much that I immediately bought the companion first volume (2014, not reviewed). (...) The balance is just right. The interpretive profile is simple as they let Bach's music speak for itself. They project a generally introspective mood by using moderate tempos and little ornamentation. (...) The Apollo performance makes me get up and move my body along with the music in long and gentle motions. It compels me to marvel at the compositions, not merely to listen for what the performers are doing to them. (...) This low-profile recording is for music lovers who don't need to be impressed by star names, glamour, or aggressive marketing. Seek and acquire it.

BARRIERE: Harpsichord Pieces; DE BURY: Harpsichord Suites
Luca Quintavalle
Brilliant 95428 [2CD] 160 minutes

These two obscure composers make an apt pairing for a 2CD set as full as it could be. Jean-Baptiste Barriere (1707-47) brought Francesco Geminiani's effusive Italian style into France. (...) Bernard de Bury (1720-85) was much more conservative in style, at least when he wrote his four suites. He was only 15 at the time, and obviously agog with the style of Francois Couperin. (...) I don't expect this recording to be surpassed. Luca Quintavalle is brilliant at both these radically different French styles of harpsichord music. The performance has all the bravura and grace I could hope for. The set fills an important niche in the repertoire and is budget-priced.

BYRD: Harpsichord Pieces
Colin Booth
Soundboard 217--76 minutes

(...) Within generally straightforward phrasing Booth finds ways to highlight surprising quirks in the music. His manner usually sounds brisk, but he brings a more relaxed and luxurious touch to the 'Pavana Ph. Tregian' (MB 60a). (...) Every record of Booth's that I have heard so far has been reliable for interpretations, documentation, and sound. US distribution is by Raven Recordings, 3217 Brook Rd, Richmond VA 23227; 804-355-6386.

DODGSON: Harpsichord Inventions
Ekaterina Likhina
Naxos 970262--72 minutes

This is the world premiere recording of 24 inventions by Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013). (...) This is Ekaterina Likhina's debut recording. She recently completed studies with Glen Wilson, who produced the album. On the evidence of this recording she is fantastic. She makes every rhythm and melody sound inevitable, perfectly polished, and worth paying attention to. The music itself is witty and variegated. (...)

HANDEL: Harpsichord Pieces
Paolo Zanzu
Musica Ficta 8025--73 minutes

This program has Suites 2 and 5 from the Eight Great Suites (1720), two suites from the 1733 second volume, and four other pieces. (...) Collectors will already have other complete recordings of the Eight Great Suites, or some of the other suites and pieces. It won't matter. This recording of selections is essential for anyone who likes Handel, to hear what Zanzu makes of it. His rhythmic control and large-scaled phrasing fit very well with Handel's theatrical genius. For readers who don't have much of Handel's harpsichord music, this is an ideal introduction on a single disc.

PERSICHETTI: Harpsichord Sonatas
Christopher D Lewis
Naxos 8559843--65 minutes

Lewis continues his fine Naxos series of rarely-recorded harpsichord music from the 20th Century. (...) Vincent Persichetti (1915-87) was a Philadelphia native. (...) Several other harpsichordists have recorded the individual sonatas that were dedicated to them, but to my knowledge no one has recorded all nine. (...) The music is affable and melodious without sticking closely to tonality. If you like Hindemith, you'll like this for its similar manner. (...)

SARDELLI: Harpsichord Suites
Simone Stella
Brilliant 95488--77 minutes

Federico Maria Sardelli (b1963) writes Baroque-styled music. His suites are from 1990, 2006, and 2016. (...) It was obvious that he was trying to emulate model pieces by Couperin, Rameau, and Royer even before seeing that he admits that in the program notes. (...) Stella plays well, catching the humor of the music and sometimes overdoing it. It's not boring. (...)

SIRET: Harpsichord Suites
Fernando de Luca
Urania 14030 [2CD] 118 minutes

The music of Nicolas Siret (1663-1754) is little known and seldom recorded. (...) His compositional style is thick with prescribed ornamentation in all the voices at once. This makes it remarkably difficult to play, awkward both physically and interpretively. The challenge is to make it sound graceful and relaxed, not merely overburdened with notes. (...) De Luca lets the long phrases run together, not conveying much character of dance or breathing. He uses the 4-foot stop too much and it's grossly out of tune, ruining those movements. (...) His general manner with the embellishment figures is distractingly bumpy and ungraceful, including a frequent technical failure to get the penultimate note to sound. The tempos all sound reasonable but the music doesn't come to life. (...)

Cromatica: The Art of Moving Souls
Marcin Swiatkiewicz, hpsi
CPO 555142--74 minutes

All of the pieces have the common theme of chromatic melodies, emphasizing the bizarre effects available in such music. (...) The composers are Soncino, Bull, Froberger, Merula, Anonymous, Sweelinck, Jacquet de la Guerre, Rameau, Forqueray, De Albero, Scarlatti, Bach, and Soler. (...) The performance has sensitivity and dramatic sweep. Swiatkiewicz knows how to make things exciting through his touch and carefully-controlled rhythmic shaping. (...) I've found this whole program very enjoyable in repeated listening. The premise of moving souls through chromaticism is interesting, and Swiatkiewicz achieves it. (...)

Mad Dog
Hopkinson Smith, lute
Naive 8940--64 minutes

Any new album by Hopkinson Smith (b1946) is self-recommending. (...) The music seems relaxed and casual, like improvisation, but it is also obvious that Smith has thought deeply about every detail. It all sounds so simple at this advanced level of mastery. It is a studied nonchalance. (...) The program is Elizabethan miniatures. Almost everything is by Anthony Holborne, John Johnson, or John Dowland. (...) I can't stop playing this album over and over at all times of day. It is inspiring and therapeutic.


Jan/Feb 2018

BACH, CPE: Keyboard Pieces
Alexei Lubimov, tangent piano
ECM 2112--68 minutes

The tangent piano is a lighter and earlier piano. Instead of using padded hammers, the action includes an accelerating lever that throws a strip of wood toward the string. (...) Lubimov's performance brings out the dramatic contrasts and quick-changing emotions in the music. It goes from delicate introspection to roaring. This would be great musicianship on any instrument. (...) Anyone interested in the tangent piano or CPE Bach's music will be happy with this. (...)

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Jean Muller, p
Hanssler 17059--49 minutes

(...) [T]his performance by Muller audibly copies Gould's 1981 recording. They take all the same repeats, phrase the music the same, use the same idiosyncratic articulations, and play slow, measured ornaments. (...) He plays the piano accurately, and he and the producer have delivered an attractive sound. (...) I should also mention that I fell asleep during the first four minutes on the first time through. (...) Muller does make it somewhat entertaining, but doesn't bring fresh ideas of his own. (...)

BACH: Partita 2, Italian Concerto, Chaconne, Preludes & Fugues
Simone Leitao, p
MSR 1665--57 minutes

(...) Her interpretations are conventional, nothing challenging. The tone is attractive. In repeats she usually re-balances the texture to bring out different parts, instead of adding many ornamental notes. It seems natural and spontaneous enough. (...) Leitao's delivery isn't perfect. In at least three pieces she learned the music with some misread accidentals. I noticed at least four other places where she gets going too fast, and then misses notes near the ends of phrases. (...) That said, I enjoy her exuberant and instinctive approach. It conveys a perhaps naive sense of wonder in the music. (...)

BEETHOVEN: Sonatas 14 + 23; BACH: Toccata, Chorales
Pavlos Hatzopoulos, p
Hanssler 16021--63 minutes

(...) The long program notes by the pianist cast Beethoven's and Bach's music as evangelical spiritual experiences. The performances are competent but mediocre--never noteworthy. (...) The biographical notes say that Hatzopoulos gives "lecture-concerts" explaining the music he plays. That's fine, but I'd rather hear thoughtful musicianship than apologetics.

FUX: Harpsichord Pieces
Filippo Emanuele Ravizza
Brilliant 95189 [2CD] 138 minutes

Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) (...) had a long career as organist and composer. His music is still coming back from obscurity. The present album fills a niche as the only available set advertised as "complete music for harpsichord", but it's not really complete. (...) The interpretation is mildly disappointing. (...) I miss hearing vigorous dance rhythms within longer phrases, the "bigger picture" of the music. (...) Movements within Partitas 2 and 5 are ruined by Ravizza's use of a 4-foot stop that is badly out of tune in the treble. (...) I don't want to quarrel too much with this project; it brings us hard-to-find music. (...) Ravizza does play well, despite some blandness in articulation. (...)

HOWELLS: Lambert's Clavichord, Howells' Clavichord
Julian Perkins
Prima Facie 65 [2CD] 86 minutes

It's the world premiere recording of all of Howells's published clavichord music [played on clavichord]. (...) This charming music is notably difficult to play well, with its thicket of notated dynamics and tricky hand positions. (...) Julian Perkins plays a 1926 Dolmetsch clavichord for the first book, two of the pieces on a Goff clavichord from 1952, and the rest on a new one by Peter Bavington. (...) He makes most of it sound deceptively easy. (...) The booklet lists more than two dozen subscribers who helped to bring this important project to publication. Many thanks are due to them, and to Perkins, for this monumental album.

PACHELBEL: Harpsichord & Organ Pieces
Marton Borsanyi
Klanglogo 1519--64 minutes

This program includes suites, variations, toccatas, chorale preludes, a fugue, a chaconne, and a ricercar. (...) Borsanyi plays both instruments with a responsive technique of varied articulations. His treatment of rhythm has a subtle swing where appropriate. The music dances and sings. There is an infectious lilt to the delivery. (...) Reviewing is easy when the music and performance are this good. Buy this and be delighted.

RUST: Sonatas, Variations
Jermaine Sprosse, fp and clavichord
DHM 88985369272--76 minutes

The variations and one sonata are world premiere recordings. Friedrich Wilhelm Rust (1739-96) was a prodigy on both violin and keyboards. (...) Sprosse makes the music exciting with a long-lined sense of drive. The tender moments are intense. The performance sounds perfectly prepared, but also passionate. (...)

Art of the Harpsichord
Byron Schenkman
Byron Schenkman & Friends 171 (CD Baby)--65 minutes

This is a showcase for the spectacular collection of playable antique keyboards in the National Music Museum at Vermilion SD. Byron Schenkman plays five harpsichords, two spinets, and an octave virginal. (...) The composers for this grand tour are Cabezon, Valente, Antico, Kerll, Purcell, Strozzi, Scarlatti, Silbermann, CPE Bach, Duphly, Corrette, Mozart, Haydn, and Handel. (...) [Schenkman's] performances are fluent and robust. (...)

Bela Cycles: New Music for Harpsichord
Elaine Funaro
Alienor 1209--76 minutes

(...) The 2008 [Alienor composition] contest asked composers to be inspired by Francois Couperin's harpsichord treatise from 1716. The 2012 contest was based on Bartok's Mikrokosmos. We hear the work of 15 composers. All the pieces are between one and three minutes long. (...) All of this is music with a sense of humor and a keen feeling for harpsichord timbres. Elaine Funaro makes it bright and cheerful. I think people young and old would enjoy hearing this album.

Le Coeur & l'Oreille (Bauyn Manuscript)
Giulia Nuti, hpsi
Arcana 434--74 minutes

Giulia Nuti has chosen representative pieces from the Bauyn manuscript, a collection copied by an unknown scribe in the mid-1670s. (...) I get the sense that Nuti is listening closely to savor the harpsichord's tonal bloom--and letting her phrasing be guided by that resonance. I like the patient tenderness she brings to the dances by Chambonnieres. (...) [F]or the gorgeous instrument and performance, Giulia Nuti's work pleases the heart and the ear. (...)

BOOKS

Reflections of an American Harpsichordist
Unpublished Memoirs, Essays, and Lectures of Ralph Kirkpatrick
by Ralph Kirkpatrick, edited by Meredith Kirkpatrick
University of Rochester Press, 199 pages, $99.00

This collection provides a fascinating view into the personality and worldview of Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984). (...) The writing reveals scrupulous musical standards and a crunchy personality. Kirkpatrick did not suffer fools or foolish practices gladly. (...) Kirkpatrick describes his touring life, his houses, the difficulties of transporting instruments, and the hurdles of fitting good scholarship into a busy life. (...) He offers many valuable insights about how to make one's way through the difficulties created by other people. (...) His remarks about music and other arts show that he thought deeply about creativity and responsibility.

Songs Without Words
Keyboard Arrangements of Vocal Music in England, 1560-1760
by Sandra Mangsen
University of Rochester Press, 263 pages, $99.00

This is an academic library book, where it's good to have the information available on a shelf but few people are going to spend months of close time with it. (...) More than half the book is about William Babell and the later arrangers who worked for publisher John Walsh in London, in the first part of the 18th century. (...) The earlier and shorter part of the book appears to be tacked on as an attempt to make it more widely marketable. Instead of dealing with merely 50 years, the book and its title advertise 150 more years of coverage before Walsh. Bangsen's survey is relatively superficial through the 16th-century virginalists and the several generations after them. (...) I concur with Bangsen's general point that keyboard arrangements of vocal music deserve more attention.


Mar/Apr 2018

BACH: Art of Fugue
Christian Kalberer, p
Thorofon 26402 [2CD] 107 minutes

Rather than using the standard final version of the piece, published by Bach's heirs soon after his death, this recording is an attempt to reconstruct an earlier version. (...) The manuscript includes some handwritten "corrections" by other 18th Century musicians (some in Bach's own family) working backward from the print. (...) Christian Kalberer (...) has tried to rebuild a pure original Bach version by removing everyone else's alterations. (...) His booklet has nearly 40 pages in English and German analyzing and explaining the composition, solemnly presenting the structure and the contrapuntal techniques. (...) Now, how is Kalberer as pianist? Unfortunately, dreadful. (...) It's slow and extremely dull. Some of the fugues take two or even three times as long as they do in the hands of other performers. (...) There is no fun, no whimsy, or any rhythmic spring to engage the body. (...) The composition is more lucid on harpsichord. (...)

BACH: French Suites 1-4
Paul Beier, archlute
Stradivarius 37082--79 minutes

The suites are for harpsichord or clavichord, but Paul Beier has adapted them to his archlute. He transposes them to new keys so the music will fit his octave of freely-resonating bass strings. He omits some of the middle contrapuntal voicing and adjusts parts of the melodies by an octave. That technique sounds effective and tasteful enough, but he gets some of the accidentals wrong. (...) His performance is patient and refined, though some of the pieces (especially the gigues) are remarkably slow and lose some coherence. His sensitivity to dynamics is excellent. (...)

BACH: Violin Sonatas
Mark Fewer, v; Hank Knox, hpsi
Leaf 216 [2CD] 90 minutes

(...) I'd be glad to hear these gentlemen play anything further in performances this good. They make me want to hear whatever else they want to do. The ensemble and intonation are perfect, the tempos are mostly normal, the balance among the parts is lucid, and there is an easy flow to the phrasing. (...) I like Mark Fewer's emphasis on Bach's irregular bowing patterns wherever there are slurs. (...)

CAVAZZONI: Complete Works
Glen Wilson, hpsi
Naxos 8572998--80 minutes

The complete extant music by Marco Antonio Cavazzoni (c1490-c1560) consists of nine contrapuntal pieces that take about 33 minutes to play. (...) Glen Wilson's program intersperses these with two similar pieces by Cavazzoni's son Girolamo and representative pieces by eight other contemporary composers. (...) The performance conveys an appropriate improvisational manner and terrific control of rhythm. (...) Wilson's musicianship and scholarship bring well-deserved attention to this arcane and obscure repertoire. (...)

COUPERIN: Harpsichord Pieces
Mark Kroll

Volume 2: Suites 8, 17, 23
Centaur 3514--63 minutes

Volume 3: Suites 3, 11, 13
Centaur 3569--78 minutes

Mark Kroll continues his Couperin series; it will probably amount to 11 or 12 volumes. (...) Kroll's delivery is confidently fluent, but I don't find it completely satisfying. He is at his best in the fastest pieces. He brings good humor and sparkle to this music, but misses some opportunities. Much of my disappointment is in the way he runs the phrases together too urgently. It makes the melodic lines seem long and breathless. (...)

GABRIELI, G: Keyboard Pieces, all
Roberto Loreggian, hpsi and org
Brilliant 95345 [3CD] 191 minutes

(...) Most of the pieces are toccatas, ricercars, or canzonas. Some are familiar from brass-ensemble programs. Loreggian has chosen to play about half of them on organ, the other half on harpsichord. (...) The performance and instruments are outstanding. The single-manual organ from 1532 is the only surviving Venetian organ from that century. (...) The harpsichord is an anonymous Italian example from 100 years later. (...) Loreggian got his fingering style and organ registrations from close study of Girolamo Diruta's treatise (1593). The fingering informs his expressive treatment of articulation and rhythm, making the musical delivery sound more like speech. (...)

JACQUET: Harpsichord Pieces
Elisabetta Guglielmin
OnClassical 17091 [2CD] 117 minutes

Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729) was a prodigy, recognized already before she was 10. (...) She offers harmonic and rhythmic surprises, contrapuntal sophistication, and melodic intensity. (...) This is mainstream French harpsichord repertoire at its best. I hear mostly a superficial surface in this performance by Elisabetta Guglielmin. (...) Pleasant politeness isn't good enough for this profound composer. Guglielmin has some trouble getting the dotted rhythmic figures to sound sprightly enough. Despite the trimming of some repeats, she makes the music seem longer than it is. (...) She rushes the long notes at the ends of phrases. (...)

SAMMARTINI: Harpsichord Sonatas
Susanna Piolanti
Tactus 701902--65 minutes

By the package's claim, everything here is a world premiere recording. (...) The compositional style is galant to pre-classical, with attractive melodies over relatively simple left-hand parts. This was salon music for skilled amateur keyboard players. The modulating sequences go where one expects. Nothing startling or especially memorable happens. It seems the type of unobtrusive background music to run in a restaurant or a car when nobody is really listening--"Lite Classic FM radio" fare. (...) [Piolanti's] performance comes across as more cautious and thoughtful than passionate, but that decorous approach sounds appropriate. She embellishes the music tastefully on repeats. The lively parts are lively enough without risking any mishaps. (...)


May/Jun 2018

BACH: Goldberg Variations

Kemal Cem Yilmaz, p
Audite 20.035--55 minutes

Ji-Yong Kim, p
Parlophone (Warner) 0190295719371--60 minutes

with Aria Variata & Aria with Variations S 991
Elisabetta Guglielmin, hpsi
OnClassical 17111--71 minutes

[Yilmaz's] interpretation is forthright. It sounds like he is going mostly for a solemn serenity and achieving it. (...) [It] sounds conventionally pianistic and well prepared. (...) I respect albums that are made as well as this, but I'm not excited about them.

[Ji's] is a young man's extraverted interpretation. It is in no way boring. On the repeats, and sometimes also on the first time through, Ji freely adds bursts of spontaneous-sounding notes. (...) He's out to shake up the world of classical music with capriciousness. It works. The music can stand this bold adventure. I won't spoil the fun-house by telling you where the weirdest distorting mirrors are. (...)

Guglielmin plays harpsichord. Her program gives us all three sets of Bach's harpsichord variations conveniently on a single CD. (...) The strongest performance here is the Air Varied in the Italian Manner, S 989. (...) [A] plus is the obscure set of variations, S. 991, a piece that is hard to find elsewhere. (...) The performance [of the Goldberg Variations] is bland. It's clean, but the music could sound more playful and surprising, as we get from Ji. (...) Guglielmin is a player who follows instructions very well, but who seems reluctant to take creative risks with the music. (...)

BACH: Pieces in Italian Style
Luca Oberti, hpsi
Arcana OutHere 443--71 minutes

Luca Oberti is new to me and the booklet modestly doesn't say anything about him. (...) On the evidence of this Bach album he is outstanding. (...) Oberti's double-manual harpsichord by Keith Hill is in Taskin style (ostensibly French), but it has a complex and strongly-articulated tone that makes it sound almost like an Italian instrument. (...) The whole program is adeptly done. It suitably introduces this side of Bach's character along with the gracious Mr Oberti. (...)

BACH: Violin Sonatas
Isabelle Faust, v; Kristian Bezuidenhout, hpsi
Harmonia Mundi 902256 [2CD] 88 minutes

I must admit a predisposition to like this; [Faust] is among my favorite violinists for any repertoire. (...) Faust and Bezuidenhout (...) create a rich texture where interesting things are happening all the time. They bend the music rhythmically more than I expected them to do, and it sometimes seems self-conscious, but the flexibility always makes sense in retrospect. (...) [They] probe the music thoroughly and come up with plenty of fresh ideas. (...) [Faust] plays mostly legato and sculpts lines full of long crescendos and diminuendos. It sounds expertly musical, but not necessarily Baroque. (...) The violin is sometimes too penetrating within the recorded mix, making it hard to hear the [equally] important contrapuntal lines from the harpsichord. (...)

BALBASTRE: Harpsichord Pieces
Christophe Rousset; Gilone Gaubert-Jacques, v
Aparte 163--76 minutes

The music of Claude-Benigne Balbastre (1724-99) has immediate appeal with attractive melodies and rhythmic drive. (...) This is one of the best albums I have heard from Rousset. He plays with flair and a sense of humor, on top of his usual machine-like precision. The performance sounds powerful and uninhibited, with big gestures suitable for the theater. (...)

FORQUERAY: Complete Works
Michele Deverite and Robert Kohnen, hpsi; Kaori Uemura and Ricardo Rodriguez, viola da gamba; Ryo Terakado, v
Harmonia Mundi 905286 [5CD] 296 minutes

(...) [The arrangements] will probably frustrate collectors who want more uniformity. In the five main suites, eight of the 32 pieces are played in the original version for viola da gamba and continuo team. The other 24 pieces have Deverite playing the harpsichord solo arrangements made by the composer's son and daughter-in-law. Some extra pieces from manuscripts are arranged by the performers to include a second harpsichord and omit the viol. (...) The best part here is disc 4. It gives us a dozen pieces dedicated to Forqueray by other composers, including two composers born after 1975. (...) The performances are polite and clean. I'd like to hear more gruffness and intensity. The music ought to startle us, make us weep, and be the best thing that happens in our day. Deverite and her team deliver only an expert polished surface, genteel and cautious. (...)

SCHEIDEMANN: Organ & Harpsichord Pieces
Joseph Rassam, org, hpsi, virginal
Brilliant 95427 [2CD] 131 minutes

(...) Joseph Rassam (...) meets [harpsichordist and musicologist Pieter] Dirksen at the summit. (...) He is just as good at the organ as at the harpsichord. (...) [Scheidemann's music] balances logic and surprises so it is always interesting. It is like Haydn's, Bartok's, and Oscar Peterson's in that way. Scheidemann's elaborations of melodies make sense to the ear, keeping the chorale melodies audible but cleverly glossed. The dances and improvisatory pieces are clever, as well. (...) Grab this set, plus Dirksen's.


Jul/Aug 2018

BACH: Keyboard Pieces, vol 1
Benjamin Alard, hpsi and org; Gerlinde Samann, s
Harmonia Mundi 902450 [3CD] 248 minutes

(...) This slim boxed set gives us pieces that Bach knew or composed before he turned 20 in 1705. It is the first volume in a series to record all of Bach's harpsichord and organ music as played by one keyboard musician. (...) Alard's interpretations are bland, not bold enough. He doesn't tease out the ways in which this music is surprising. (...) [The] sour out-of-tuneness argues implicitly that young Bach perhaps didn't care, or didn't know any better, or was at the mercy of other people tuning badly for his music. (...) Readers seeking this music from Bach's youngest years can do better by acquiring the two Hanssler programs played by Robert Hill on harpsichord. (...)

COUPERIN: Concerts Royaux
I Fiori Musicali
Urania 14031--56 minutes

There are four Royal Concerts, or suites. This is an unsatisfactory recording of them. (...) The flutist plays the melodies on a wooden flute and two recorders. Unfortunately, all three of her instruments are painfully out of tune with the rest of the ensemble. (...) The musicians bring a reasonable style but they don't sound imaginative beyond the notes. (...)

COUPERIN: Viol Suites; FORQUERAY: Pieces for 3 Viols
Atsushi Sakai, Marion Martineau, Isabelle Saint Yves, viols; Christophe Rousset, hpsi
Aparte 166--63 minutes

(...) The performers say in a booklet note that the venue was inspiring. Their performance certainly is. Sakai plays (...) with exquisite control of the mood and his instrument. His performance commands attention in an often overwhelming way. The accompanying team matches his intensity with a wide range of expression. (...)

COUPERIN, L: Piano Pieces
Pavel Kolesnikov
Hyperion 68224--79 minutes

Kolesnikov (...) doesn't play Louis Couperin's pieces like real dance music of the 1650s, despite the subtitle of the program ("Dances from the Bauyn Manuscript"). (...) Kolesnikov is clearly a good pianist but not a harpsichordist. (...) He makes theatrical miscalculations in choosing where to provide variety. He too often dissipates the energy by settling for quiet and slow pseudo-profundity. His haphazard attempts at poetic shading are ultimately boring. (...)

GINASTERA: Estancia; PIAZZOLLA: 4 Seasons
Mireille Podeur and Orlando Bass, hpsi; Didier Henry, baritone
Maguelone (Naxos) 358417--62 minutes

Yes, it's the complete Estancia ballet (1952) and four tangos from 1968, arranged for two harpsichords by a French duo. It's so crazy that it just...might...work! (...) This music is spicy with dissonance and driving rhythms. It is hot, exciting stuff. (...) Podeur and Bass sound like they are having a great time. One will be tempted to play this outstanding recording louder than harpsichords normally sound. My teenager likes it that way.

GOLDBERG: Harpsichord Concertos
Alina Ratkowska, hpsi; Goldberg Baroque Ensemble
MD+G 9012061 [SACD] 62 minutes

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-56) (...) was a prodigiously skilled harpsichordist as a teenager. How was he as a composer in the remaining dozen years of his short life? On the evidence of these two concertos, he could follow the formulas but he had little to say. (...) These rare concertos are unlikely to be played better in future recordings. (...) This album definitely outclasses its direct competition from older recordings. (...)

HANDEL: Halle Sonatas
Nancy Ambrose King and Andrew Parker, ob; Kristin Wolfe Jensen, bn; Jonathan Rhodes Lee, hpsi
Equilibrium 145 (Albany)--57 minutes

The cheery melodic lines percolate around one another. The music is delicious. These six sonatas (...) might or might not be by Handel. (...) Whoever created them, they are terrific. (...) The musicianship is outstanding, a lively interaction among friends. After a performance this good I wanted more.

HANDEL: Harpsichord Pieces from a Bergamo Manuscript
Fernando de Luca
Urania 14032--74 minutes

(...) The pieces (...) sound mostly like empty-headed spinning of notes. The keyboard figurations are boring and directionless. (...) [The] interpretation too often sounds like little more than autopilot sight-reading as fast as possible. The music doesn't seem to mean anything. (...) Some pieces in E major and E minor are excruciating. (...) That assessment is for both the lost-cause compositions and the performance.

JACQUET: Harpsichord Pieces
Francesca Lanfranco
Brilliant 95555 [2CD] 133 minutes

(...) Francesca Lanfranco [gives] a magnificent performance. (...) Her playing conveys an uncommon ability to hold attention without ever seeming eccentric. (...) Elizabeth Farr's set is outstanding, too. (...) Aficionados will want both these recordings. (...)

MEHLDAU: After Bach
Brad Mehldau, p
Nonesuch 7559793180--69 minutes

Jazz musician Mehldau (...) plays six pieces from Bach's two volumes of The Well-Tempered Clavier. Interspersed among these, and at the beginning and end of the program, he offers his own elaborations and Bach-inspired pieces. (...) The album is self-produced. (...) A stronger producer would have challenged him to be more exacting with [problems of wrong notes and unimpressive pedaling]. His own compositions and improvisations seem too long and unfocused. (...)

Basso Ostinato: Passacaglias & Chaconnes
Pieter-Jan Belder, hpsi
Brilliant 95656--78 minutes

(...) The music and musicianship are dazzling. These pieces are built upon short repeating patterns. A harmonic progression gets going, and the composer works out inventive variations to build large structures of cumulative excitement. (...) Belder plays ten grand showpieces by Picchi, Purcell, Bach, Tomkins, Marchand, Louis Couperin, Soler, Storace, Muffat, and Frescobaldi. (...) [Belder's] extraordinary performance of Frescobaldi's piece [Cento Partite] would be sufficient by itself to recommend purchase of the album. But, the rest of the program is emphatically great, too.


Sep/Oct 2018

BACH: English Suites 4-6
Montenegrin Guitar Duo
Naxos 8573676--64 minutes

(...) The duo made their own arrangement. (...) Tempos are mostly fast, but never too fast for plenty of vigorous inflection within the melodic lines. There is a convincing French-styled swing of rhythms in the allemandes and courantes. Harpsichordists and pianists could envy the level of involvement on display here. (...)

BACH: Harpsichord Pieces 2
Richard Lester
Nimbus 5948 [2CD] 155 minutes

This second release in Lester's series is disappointing mostly for the same reasons volume 1 was. His phrasing generally doesn't match the way I parse syntax in listening to or playing Bach's music. (...) His approach goes against the way Bach set words in his vocal music, and against Bach's style of slurs for string players. (...) The interpretations aren't interesting enough to make me want to wait for [annual future volumes] eagerly. (...) The program notes are OK, going into the dance forms and descriptions of their typical tempos. Unfortunately, Lester writes about those dances more compellingly than he plays them. (...)

BACH: Goldberg Variations

Peter Hill, p
Delphian 34200--79 minutes

with Adagio, S 968
Diego Ares, hpsi
Harmonia Mundi 902283 [2CD] 89 minutes

(...) Hill [on piano] contents himself with a surface of perfect preparation. The overall mood is placid--welcome and impressive in its own way, but monochromatic. (...) I like Hill's congenial sound, but I want more zest and some surprising irregularity beyond the deferential score-reading. (...)

[H]arpsichordist Diego Ares (...) produces a rhythmically free performance with extravagant ornamentation and some judicious "overholding" for resonance. (...) It's continually interesting. Ares conveys a strong sense of changing moods, as a traveler might experience with the sights along a journey. It's vivid and compelling. (...) For me, Ares is welcome among the best and most stimulating recent recordings on harpsichord.

BACH: Lute Suites 1+4
Michael Poll, g
Orchid 100082--41 minutes

(...) Michael Poll plays a seven-stringed guitar. (...) The performance is earnest, steady, cautious, and dull. Poll plays accurately, but conveys little in this music beyond making a calm and inoffensive surface. I hear no dance or spontaneity. (...) This recording would be pleasantly unobtrusive if heard in a restaurant when nobody is really paying attention to the music. (...)

BYRD: Harpsichord Pieces
Richard Egarr
Linn 518--63 minutes

William Byrd's harpsichord music (...) offers a wide expressive range to enterprising performers. (...) Most remarkable is [Egarr's] idiosyncratic and overwhelming performance of The Bells. He holds the notes down as long as possible, creating a grand smear that sounds convincingly like a bell tower. He conceives the piece as depicting a team of bell ringers who don't quite have it together. Some of the players in his fictitious ensemble, especially the ringer of the note D, play their rhythms irregularly as they try to ring the changes. It's chaotic and marvelous. (...)

LOEILLET: Harpsichord Suites
Jan Devlieger
Phaedra 92099--72 minutes

Jean Baptiste Loeillet (1680-1730) was born in Ghent, but spent most of his professional career in London. (...) This set of six suites (1723) was the second of his two published books for harpsichord. The style is more Italianate than French. (...) Jan Devlieger plays reliably. (...) His melodic ornamentation is elegant and sounds natural. (...) The music is attractive. I do not know of any other recordings of this complete set of suites. (...)

SCARLATTI: Sonatas 1
Federico Colli, p
Chandos 10988--67 minutes

Colli (...) uses the full colorful resources of his modern piano. He lets the characters change within each piece in ways that sound intuitive and natural. He has great control and takes interpretive risks. (...) Colli brings out the joy of the pieces, taking the listener through adventures. He outdoes both Horowitz and Pletnev in vigor and his palette of contrasts. Acquire this, and prepare to buy more of it.

VALENTE: Harpsichord Pieces
Fabio Antonio Falcone, Ensemble L'Amorosa Caccia
Brilliant 95326--74 minutes

Antonio Valente (c1520-c1580) worked as an organist and harpsichordist in Naples. From 1576, this book is some of the first music by anyone published specifically for harpsichord (plucked strings, as opposed to organ). (...) Falcone performs 14 of the pieces as solos, dividing them between harpsichord and a five-sided virginal (both built by Roberto Livi). He has arranged the other [7] pieces for recorder and continuo, or for a soprano to sing, instead of playing them as keyboard solos. (...) Falcone's colleagues are excellent, as he is himself on his two keyboards. The performances are energetic. (...)

Early Keyboard Masters
Agnes Ratko, hpsi
Klanglogo 1524--63 minutes

The front cover mentions only Cabezon, Frescobaldi, and Sweelinck, but there are also pieces by Bull and Kerll. Many of these pieces are arcane and undemonstrative, more contrapuntal than dramatic. (...) Agnes Ratko gives a relaxed performance full of agreeably curved musical gestures. Her interpretation sounds polite and deferential. Her phrasing has some lilt and it happens at the expected places. (...) The album (...) is easily recommendable to anyone seeking an hour of perfection where nothing startling happens. I would have welcomed an additional 15 minutes of Cabezon's music played this beautifully.

Fragments of Love Letters: Picchi, Merula, Frescobaldi, Storace, Rossi, Strozzi
Marianna Henriksson, hpsi
Siba 1020--58 minutes

(...) Henriksson says she has chosen these pieces because they "are like love letters. (...) This is a lover's language of longing, crying, laughing, blackmailing, losing temper, falling into exhaustion, resigning." It sounds like a convenient excuse to pick emotionally intense music, which is the way she plays. It is brilliant and exciting, while she is also good with the tender parts. (...)


Nov/Dec 2018

BACH: Clavichord Pieces
Friedrich Gulda
Berlin 0301063--60 minutes

Gulda engineered these 1978-9 recordings himself for his own study, not for release. The private tapes are from his estate. (...) Purists will dislike this. The sound is mediocre at best, a valiant production effort starting from tapes that were damaged (stretching, drop-outs, tonal distortions). (...) The interpretation is eccentrically fast. (...) Fans of this maverick pianist will surely want to hear this, as will adventurous collectors of modern Bach interpretations. (...)

BACH: Harpsichord concertos

Fabio Bonizzoni, hpsi; La Risonanza
Challenge 72773 [SACD] 63 minutes

Marcin Swiatkiewicz, hpsi; Zefira Valova and Anna Nowak-Pokrzywinska, v; Dymitr Olszewski, va; Tomasz Pokrzywinski, vc
Channel 40418--56 minutes

Davide Ferella and Dorina Frati, mandolins; Profili Barocchi
Dynamic 7821--61 minutes

(...) One of my favorite reference sets for the Bach harpsichord concertos is by Robert Woolley, playing with his colleagues of the Purcell Quartet and several guest musicians. (...) The three new albums under review all have a similar instrumentation with only one player per part, and all these string players convey strong enthusiasm and sensitive dynamic shaping. (...)

Bonizzoni's (...) album would be a fine middle-of-the-road choice for someone who wants these four concertos [1, 2, 4, 5] together, although I don't feel that it teaches me anything new beyond Woolley's and some other older recordings. (...)

Swiatkiewicz [in Concertos 1-3] is definitely worth hearing, no matter how many recordings of these pieces are already familiar. [He improvises extensively.] (...) The sound is thinner without a deep bass, but that's something I gladly trade away for musicianship this stimulating. (...)

Ferella's performance on mandolin is lively and imaginative. (...) [The concertos are 1, 4, 8, and the double concerto, S1060.] Sometimes the solo parts go an octave higher than harpsichords do, which sounds a little odd along with the omission of bass. (...)

COUPERIN: Harpsichord Suites 6+8; L'Art de Toucher le Clavecin
Joyce Lindorff
Affetto (Naxos) 1802--76 minutes

(...) Joyce Lindorff, a professor at Temple University, (...) includes the rustic Ordre 6 in B-flat major, the grander Ordre 8 in B minor, and the teaching pieces from Couperin's harpsichord textbook. (...) More than half of this program is exquisite, where Lindorff's supple phrasing and patient tempos let the music sing. (...) Unfortunately, tuning trouble mars several other pieces. (...) A few of Lindorff's readings are questionable. (...) Lindorff's interpretation and the tight miking both urge the listener to pay close attention to individual notes. Lisa Goode Crawford in Ordres 8 and 24 sublimates the notes into larger phrases, making the music sound grander. (...)

LIGETI: Harpsichord Pieces; SCARLATTI: 12 Sonatas
Justin Taylor
Alpha 399--69 minutes

The twelve sonatas by Scarlatti are mostly familiar--K. 18, 27, 32, 115, 141, 175, 208, 213, 239, 481, 492, and 519. (...) Among these are interspersed Gyorgy Ligeti's three harpsichord pieces. (...) Taylor's performances are intense. From the first few notes of each piece he sets a mood and astonishes us with it. (...) His Scarlatti is superlative, and will well reward fans of this composer, but the even bigger win here is the Ligeti. (...)

MATTHESON: Harpsichord Suites
Alessandro Simonetto
Brilliant 95588 [2CD] 150 minutes

(...) [Colin] Booth's vivid interpretation on two contrasting harpsichords remains my first choice for these pieces. (...) Simonetto's performance is lively and imaginative. He uses colorful registrations and convincing phrasing, engaging the different characters of the dances. (...) [In part of this recording, the] timbre lacks treble and it generates oddly wavering midrange resonances on some of my speaker systems. (...) Collectors with different equipment might not have any difficulties with Simonetto's sound, especially next to the compelling flair of his performance. (...)

MCLEAN: Harpsichord Sonatas; JANELLO: Concerto for Two; Toccata-Rondo
Elaine Funaro, Rebecca Pechefsky, Beverly Biggs
Alienor 1210--62 minutes

(...) All the pieces are for one, two, or three harpsichords. (...) Edwin McLean's music sounds somewhat like a neoclassical hybrid of 1980s Mannheim Steamroller and 1970s TV soundtracks, but without drums. I intend that goofy characterization as a compliment to its accessibility. (...) Mark Janello's pieces treat the harpsichords more overtly as rhythm instruments. (...) The melodies are catchy and the harmonies are more adventurous than McLean's. (...) Elaine Funaro, Rebecca Pechefsky, and Beverly Biggs play with verve and outstanding coordination. It's like a festival of harpsichordists grinning and having fun. (...)

PLATTI: Harpsichord Sonatas
Stefano Molardi, hpsi, org, clavichord
Brilliant 95518 [3CD] 237 minutes

Giovanni Benedetti Platti (1697-1763) published 12 of these sonatas in the 1740s, and the other six sonatas survive in manuscripts. (...) The music is marvelous. It isn't played or recorded often. This comprehensive recording by Stefano Molardi should help to evangelize its value for listeners and performers. (...) The pieces are all for harpsichord, but Molardi plays Sonata 4 on clavichord, and Sonatas 5, 9, 10, 12, and 13 on organ. (...) Molardi is a first-rate player on all three instruments. (...) In the booklet essay he remarks that the music is akin to a speech with the aim of moving the passions. That is certainly the way he plays. (...)

RAMEAU: Harpsichord Pieces, all
Steven Devine
Resonus 10214 [3CD] 220 minutes

Steven Devine (...) [includes] Rameau's keyboard reduction of ballet music from Les Indes Galantes. (...) He has sensitive touch and tends to use faster-than-average tempos. He keeps things interesting, but nothing strikes me as remarkably insightful beyond getting all the notes accurately and confidently. (...) The best thing here (at least for me) is the ballet score, where he faces less competition. (...)

TELEMANN: Harpsichord Overtures
Gaku Nakagawa
Naxos 8573819--64 minutes

(...) [These] are three-movement pieces in Telemann's imitation French-Italian-Polish blended style. (...) Nakagawa organizes the music into long phrases, making it clear where each idea is going, (...) as if he's (perhaps) thinking like a conductor with big gestures. (...) Throughout the set, Nakagawa conveys playfulness well, sympathetic with Telemann's markings of scherzando character. (...)


Jan/Feb 2019

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Wolfgang Rubsam, lautenwerck
Naxos 8.573921--78 minutes

Roberto Loreggian, hpsi
Dynamic 7823--59 minutes

Wolfgang Rubsam has had a distinguished career as an organist, and he made many beautiful recordings of Bach's harpsichord music on the piano. (...) Rubsam always gives his performances an intriguing rhythmic profile.(...) Rubsam has made the music more difficult for himself by choosing a single-manual instrument, against Bach's explicit requirements. (...) The performance lacks simplicity and subtlety. To be transparent, the performance would need a vigorous and clear rhythmic profile in at least one voice, preferably the bass line. Rubsam's bass lines have the notes happening before the beat. It's unsettling and frustrating. (...)

Roberto Loreggian (...) is especially sensitive and expressive with early Italian music. I wanted to like this new recording, (...) but it is a disappointing disaster. (...) He battles against a harpsichord that doesn't suit his own expectations. (...) Worse than the problems created by simulating tonal profundity, the harpsichord is excruciatingly out of tune. (...)

BACH: Lute Pieces
Yasunori Imamura
Naxos 8.573936 [2CD] 117 minutes

Imamura plays the standard aggregation of Bach's lute pieces (S. 995-1000 and 1006a)--no modern transcriptions. (...) Imamura makes it sound more like public entertainment. It is lively and exhilarating, with big gestures. This album is easy to recommend at any price. (...)

BACH: Well-Tempered Clavier
Alexandra Papastefanou, p
FHR (First Hand) 65 [4CD] 264 minutes

(...) Her performance of Bach's music is fastidious. Her tempos and characters in the preludes are conventional. (...) The music comes across as serious, carefully polished, and usually gentle. (...) Her interpretation of fugues is formulaic. (...) The dynamic contrasts are used not to shape the lines melodically, but to differentiate the voices that are playing simultaneously. (...) It's like seeing a play production where one character gets a microphone and spotlight for every speech, while all the other characters are deliberately ignored or sent offstage to mumble their lines. There are no comprehensible conflicts or motivations. (...)

COUPERIN: Harpsichord Pieces 1
Bertrand Cuiller
Harmonia Mundi [2CD] 128 minutes

Olivier Fortin
Alpha 408--70 minutes

Both of these albums are wonderful. Bertrand Cuiller plays Ordres 3, 4, 11, 19, 20, and 27. (...) He is fastidious with fingering and imaginative with characterization. His sweep is powerful. The sound and documentation are excellent. (...) Assuming that he sustains this high quality through all the ensuing volumes, Cuiller will have assembled one of the best available recordings of this music. (...)

Olivier Fortin plays the eight preludes of L'Art de Toucher le Clavecin (a primer for harpsichord students) interspersed with 17 other pieces from Couperin's four other books of harpsichord music. (...) Fortin interprets the didactic preludes more as musical lessons than technical ones. (...) [It] has a comfortable "rightness" and a gentle smile that makes this program easy to listen to. This is a terrific single CD to introduce anyone to Couperin's music.

COUPERIN, L: Harpsichord Suites
Christophe Rousset
Harmonia Mundi 902501 [2CD] 147 minutes

(...) This is some of my favorite harpsichord music. It has a remarkably wide emotional range with subtle harmonic and melodic gestures. (...) All of Couperin's most popular pieces were in Rousset's first volume, and this new album therefore represents a deeper dive into a second tier of the repertoire. (...) His performances seem objective and emotionally reserved--emphasizing preparation over passion. That said, they are energetic with clean articulations and rhythmic drive. (...)

JOHANNES OF LUBLIN: Keyboard Tablature
Corina Marti, hpsi
Brilliant 95556--74 minutes

The manuscript compiled by Johannes of Lublin is from 1540. (...) Marti sweeps her competition [Clemencic] out the door. Her expressive technique makes these pieces dance and sing. The melodic flourishes are breathtaking. (...) This is a great start through this almost-unknown music. (...)

SCARLATTI, A: Keyboard Pieces 6
Francesco Tasini, hpsi
Tactus 661916--78 minutes

(...) If you like Froberger's toccatas or Buxtehude's praeludia, you'll like Alessandro Scarlatti. (...) Tasini's performance manner often sounds maddeningly laborious because of the way he inserts tiny pauses before and after downbeats. He also slows down before big chords. His limited range of expression when rolling chords makes him sound like an organist dutifully playing harpsichord, not a harpsichordist playing his principal instrument. (...)

Fitzwilliam Virginal Book 6
Pieter-Jan Belder, hpsi
Brilliant 95458 [2CD] 123 minutes

This is the penultimate volume in Belder's complete recording. (...) Some pieces are simple trifles, while others are brilliantly difficult. Belder includes some of each here. (...) Every volume 1-6 has had the same excellent historical essay by Greg Holt, and then comments by Belder on individual pieces. I have nothing new to say about the terrific performances, beyond observing that Belder shapes the biggest pieces with great and flexible control of time. I urgently recommend buying this whole inspiring series. (...)


Mar/Apr 2019

BACH: Well-Tempered Clavier

Book 1
Colin Booth, hpsi
Soundboard 218 [2CD] 122 minutes

Book 2
Brenda Lucas Ogdon, piano
Sterling 1830 [2CD] 156 minutes

We have here a beautifully played expert harpsichord rendition in an unfortunately unconvincing tuning scheme, and a piano performance that is weak on musical interpretation. (...)

[Colin Booth] settles on the choice of "Kirnberger 3" temperament. (...) [Long historical review here, engaging Booth's argument and the music....] (...) This temperament makes the music tense and unsettled (...) [Marpurg, a crucial source not used in Booth's explanations,] pinpointed the crux of the problem in tuning passably for Bach's music--don't ever let any of the notes get as much as a comma off their proper spots as major thirds, reckoned from either side. (...) Booth's performance is generally outstanding, a fine model of clarity and buoyancy. (...) His carefully-researched ideas about tempo and articulation cast fresh light on the music. In that grand picture, this well-made set by an expert is definitely worth hearing. (...)

The piano set by Brenda Lucas Ogdon is, frankly, uncompetitive among available recordings of Book 2. (...) Lucas's Bach interpretation sounds naive and diffident. As the booklet's annotator points out, she has attempted to play the music with as little interpretation as possible on top of the 1970 Henle Urtext edition that she is reading from. The results are dull. (...) It sounds as if she doesn't have confidence to go beyond the printed page, and doesn't fully understand Bach's written symbols or scale structures. She can hit the notes, but has trouble finding expressive characterization, charm, or humor. (...)

CLEMENTI, JOMMELLI, RUTINI: Harpsichord Duets
Alberto Firrincieli, Mario Stefano Tonda
Tactus 710002--68 minutes

This is the world premiere recording of all these pieces. They are charming galant duets from near the end of the 18th century--think of the style of Haydn or young Beethoven. (...) This program is easy to recommend as light-hearted entertainment.

MARCELLO: Keyboard Sonatas
Chiara Minali, org; Laura Farabollini, hpsi
Brilliant 95277 [3CD] minutes

(...) The harpsichord half of this program is a disaster. Laura Farabollini has insecure rhythm and trouble conveying the architectural shapes of her pieces. (...) The instrument is excruciatingly out of tune in every way--unisons, octaves, 4-foot stop, and sloppy temperament. The organ is from 1812. It sounds good, but its conservative meantone temperament doesn't fit the music's keys or modulations. Chiara Minali's performance manner sounds clean but cautious. (...) I can't think of any reason to prefer this Brilliant set over [Roberto] Loreggian, except for the curiosity of hearing some of the sonatas played on organ, or hearing the 40 minutes of music he hasn't recorded.

RAMEAU: Keyboard Pieces

Virginia Black, piano
CRD 3536--63 minutes

With COUPERIN: 8 Preludes
Lucas Wong, piano
Centaur 3633--73 minutes

With COUPERIN: 6 Keyboard Pieces; SEIXAS: 4 Sonatas
Mariko Terashi, piano
Athene 24207--76 minutes

This is the same Virginia Black who made harpsichord records a generation ago, and she continues to teach harpsichord at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is terrific at translating all of that background expertise to make these pieces sing and dance on the piano. (...) Lucas Wong (...) loses track of the rhythm and meter, making tempo changes that are haphazard and distracting. His Couperin preludes go OK--14 minutes here. He claims that this is the only available recording of them on piano. (...) Mariko Terashi gives us 24 minutes of Seixas, 30 of Rameau, and 22 of Couperin. Her performance generally doesn't convey much gracefulness. It's accurate but doesn't hold attention strongly. (...)

SCARLATTI: Harpsichord Sonatas
Jean Rondeau
Erato 0190295633684--81 minutes

(...) Jean Rondeau's selection of 15 sonatas is mostly familiar pieces that many other musicians have recorded. The Kirkpatrick numbers are 6, 30, 69, 119, 132, 141, 162, 175, 180, 199, 208, 213, 216, 460, and 481 (played in a different sequence). (...) The performance is swaggeringly confident, but I find it unsatisfying. (...) As the program proceeds, the interpretation gets increasingly eccentric, toward the point of being frustrating and infuriating (...) He sacrifices the mood to make us listen to him, not the composer. (...) Rondeau's self-serving iconoclastic showmanship is not what I want.

SCHEIDEMANN: Harpsichord Pieces; SCHEIDT: Harpsichord Pieces
Yoann Moulin
Ricercar 394--56 minutes

This inspiring program is worthy to join the outstanding Scheidemann recordings by Rassam and Dirksen (...) Moulin captures the different expressive characters of the pieces well, playing with fluency and imagination. He understands the rare art of guiding a listener subtly through several layers of a composition simultaneously. (...)

VERACINI: Violin Sonatas, op 1:1+6; op 2:8+12
Enrico Gatti; Guido Morini, hpsi; Alain Gervreau, vc
Arcana 456--60 minutes

(...) [This is the second reissue of this 1996 recording.] The performance is brilliant, the music attractive, and there isn't much competition in these pieces (...) The most-recorded sonata is the first one. Gatti makes it lively and extraverted. (...)


May/Jun 2019

COUPERIN: Les Nations
Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques
Aparte 197 [2CD] 109 minutes

This is a set of four extended trio sonatas published in 1726 (...) The sonatas each have seven to ten movements, mostly with the same dances found in suites. (...) The performances are graceful and well-rehearsed, with deferential teamwork from Rousset's ten musicians. The music flows easily and the interpretation sounds objective. I'd like to hear more spontaneity and individual personality, more roughness to the blend, but the overall refined musicianship is easy to listen to and enjoy. (...)

COUPERIN: Harpsichord and Ensemble Pieces
Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques
Aparte 193 [2CD] 131 minutes

The package is called Couperin & Moi. (...) There are 18 minutes of new recordings by Les Talens Lyriques. (...) There are 44 minutes of harpsichord solos drawn from Rousset's complete Harmonia Mundi set of 25 years ago (...) Nine minutes of music duplicate a few movements from the new recording of Les Nations. (...) The remaining 60 minutes are older ensemble recordings from Aparte, or licensed from Decca or Warner. (...) [The] musical standard as heard here is consistently high. I like Rousset's ensemble direction and continuo improvisations more than his older solo harpsichord performances. (...)

PACHELBEL: Keyboard music, all
Simone Stella, hpsi & org
Brilliant 95623 [13CD] 15 hours and 2 minutes

(...) The box includes four hours and 17 minutes of harpsichord music; ten hours and 45 minutes of organ. Simone Stella is a reliable and imaginative performer, playing very well on both instruments. (...) For overall value and inspiringly high quality, this box is extraordinary. (...) Stella keeps [the more than 100 fugues] lively and interesting with his articulation and registrations. (...) Stella plays all 19 [attributed] suites (...) Stella's tempos tend to be lively, and his articulations vigorous. It gives the impression of a young hotshot's music, out to impress (Pachelbel died at only 52). The organ registrations are beautifully varied. Stella makes conservative choices. (...) [He] conveys a creative spirit in making his performances effective. (...)

Piano music c1300 - c2000
Jeremy Denk
Nonesuch 563316 [2CD] 101 minutes

(...) [Denk] says the program is "a mixture of personal affection, historical awareness, and the desire to provide a compelling narrative." (...) Too much of the first half hour of Denk's program sounds timid and deferential before Great Art. (...) [The] second disc of the program (everything after Bach) comes across as an impressive sampler, showing that this versatile musician can play all this later repertoire uncommonly well. (...)


Jul/Aug 2019

BACH: Goldberg Variations
Anne-Catherine Bucher, hpsi
Naxos 8551405 -- 80 minutes

(...) She recorded this performance on a Dulcken-style harpsichord in May 2016. (...) She plays straightforwardly (steady tempos, few improvised embellishments) and observes all the repeats. Most of her tempos are fast, similar to those in Glenn Gould's notorious 1955 recording on piano. (...) Bucher is content to give us the big architectural features of the edifice.

BACH: Violin and Cello Pieces, arr.
Roberto Loreggian, hpsi
Brilliant 95757 [3CD] 180 minutes

(...) It's emphatically no replacement for the original recordings by Gustav Leonhardt. (...) Leonhardt played with strong rhythmic vitality. He conveyed the phrasing with varied articulations, non-simultaneous releases, and subtle tempo rubato. (...) Loreggian brings none of the subtle rhythmic swing and verve that made Leonhardt's own performances easily recognizable and cherishable. He just plows through the notes accurately as they appear on the page, missing the rhetorical gestures and the expression. (...) We must hope that someone else, perhaps Henstra or another Leonhardt student, will record this book of transcriptions with a stronger sense of Leonhardt's flair and Bach's string-instrument phrasing. (...)

BACH: Violin Concertos

with Orchestral Suite 2; Trio Sonatas; Sinfonias
Isabelle Faust & Bernhard Forck, v; Xenia Loeffler, ob; Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi 902335 [2CD] 144 minutes

Giuliano Carmignola & Mayumi Hirasaki, v; Concerto Koln
Archiv 4792695 -- 74 minutes

Both Carmignola and Faust include Bach's two standard violin concertos, the concerto for two violins, and two reconstructions. (...) Faust's set has twice as much music and I prefer her performance to Carmignola's. [The review lists all the other pieces.] (...) Faust's tempos are a little faster than I prefer, but not outlandish. (...) Faust's set is (...) a terrific introduction to the music, conveniently giving us many of Bach's "concertos" of various types. (...)

By contrast, Giuliano Carmignola's recording is unpleasant. He makes the music too hard-driven and one-dimensional--it's even faster than Faust, and he doesn't let the phrases breathe much. The brusqueness makes Bach seem angry. (...)

COUPERIN: Les Nations 1, 3, 4
Luigi Accardo & Enrico Bissolo, hpsi
Stradivarius 37118 -- 75 minutes

As I said for Christophe Rousset's ensemble recording (M/J 2019), Les Nations is comprised of four long sonatas, ostensibly in four different national styles. The performers work out their own instrumentation, which usually includes winds and strings. (...) Accardo & Bissolo call their duo-harpsichord ensemble "Daccapo". (...) The tuning gets painfully bad for all of sonata 4. (...) I hear too many stiff rhythms: as if Daccapo are cautious to stay exactly together. I want to hear the phrases sing with lilt and grace. Some of the dance movements have little character. (...)

BYRD: Harpsichord Pieces

Patrick Ayrton, hpsi and org
Globe 5123 -- 69 minutes

with Dowland, Locke, Lawes, Gibbons, Morley, Bull, Purcell
Frederike Chylek
Oehms 1702 -- 67 minutes

Patrick Ayrton's program (...) is an above-average Byrd keyboard album. [His] most memorable harpsichord pieces are the Walsingham variations and Sellinger's Round. He shapes these large structures well. (...) For the second half of the program he plays a very old Dutch organ (1531) in a 13th century church. (...)

Friederike Chylek (...) [includes] 11 pieces by Byrd and only a few each by the other composers to give historical context to his work. The 15 minutes of pieces by Locke, Lawes, and Purcell go especially well. (...) She plays the 16th century music (Byrd, Dowland, Gibbons, Morley, Bull) too impatiently. This is some of my favorite repertoire, but her performance doesn't help me appreciate it more deeply. She just zooms through the notes fluently. (...) The end of each strain runs into the next one without settling for rest. (...)

HAYDN: Symphonies 63, 38, 37, 9
Benjamin Spillner, Heidelberg Sinfoniker
Hanssler 18024 -- 67 minutes

(This submitted review was not edited or printed by ARG, so I include it in full here. ARG had already printed someone else's review of this disc recently, but not yet appearing in the Cumulative Index, and I hadn't seen it while writing mine. ARG's policy is not to review items more than once.)

This is volume 24 of Thomas Fey's series (1999-present) that was to include all the Haydn symphonies. Fey is unfortunately no longer able to participate, unless he is helping with some behind-the-scenes preparation. He suffered a debilitating brain injury in a fall down stairs at his house in 2014, a horrible misfortune. The Heidelberg Sinfoniker and concertmaster Benjamin Spillner have carried on gamely with well-prepared interpretations in his style. It's rather like an old album of Wagner that the Symphony of the Air (NBC Symphony) recorded without Toscanini, just to show us what they could still do without a galvanizing autocrat on the podium.

According to advertisements inside the first several volumes, they planned to record 107 symphonies--the standard 104 and more, plus some overtures. They hoped to finish the project by 2009 (bicentennial of Haydn's death), but fell far behind schedule (funding?). Fey got 60 of the symphonies recorded before his accident in 2014. Spillner stepped up with Symphony 101 that is available only in a convenient 4CD set of all 12 London symphonies, the rest of them being Fey reissues. Volume 23 has Symphonies 6, 7, and 8 led by Fey, and 35, 46, and 51 by Spillner. The present volume is 24, all Spillner: symphonies 63, 38, 37, and 9.

I have been following some German press releases that suggest this will probably be the stopping point, as the orchestra is in serious trouble of funding its concerts and recordings. So, we are (probably) left with this truncated series of 68 of the symphonies: the Paris and London sets and a haphazard selection of 50 others. The Farewell symphony (45) was handled way back in volume 2, 1999, before Spillner was a member. ARG has reviewed scarcely any of this series, and some of our staff frankly hate them (Haydn Overview, M/A 2019).

On the whole, the series has a strong personality that stems partly from Fey's mentor, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (whose own truncated series of Haydn symphonies is also terrific, in my opinion). Here is the general profile of Fey's interpretations. His instruments are in modern setup except for natural horns and trumpets. Articulations are chosen for maximum contrast, going from a syrupy legato in stepwise passages to sudden staccatos when there are leaps within the melodies. Tempos are sometimes wildly contrasting and eccentric, especially within minuet-and-trio movements (trios much slower). There is a muscular drive and punchy accentuation to fast movements. Accented chords get a strong attack, sometimes to the point of violence. The percussion section is strong, and wind solos are colorfully expressive. Slow movements have appropriate delicacy and transparency. Fey sometimes had the players add quirky embellishments he had written out, with the whole section playing together (surely an anachronism).

I have the complete sets of Fischer, Dorati, and hundreds of individual Haydn symphony recordings. Fey suits me well when I feel like hearing something risky and iconoclastic.

Mr Spillner (1978-) is 18 years younger than Fey. He leads capably from the concertmaster's chair, and makes the music sound less mannered and eccentric than the iconoclastic Fey. He is more centrist with tempos, modifies them only slightly, and he gives the music an attractively natural flow with good balances. What else could they do but carry on moderately like this? A differently radical conductor might have taken the series in a conflicting direction. These early symphonies often don't need much conducting, anyway--everyone can stay together easily by watching the concertmaster and listening to the rhythm of the almost inaudible harpsichord.

Spillner has only 25 musicians here -- the approximate size of Haydn's orchestra when he composed these pieces. I am aware that some of our staff and readers will despise the next point: it's an orchestra of modern strings playing with almost no vibrato.

These four symphonies are short, all fitting onto a single CD with room to spare. It seems a miscalculation to put together four symphonies all in the same key, C major.

Symphony 63:2 is the charming set of La Roxelane variations that Haydn also cast as a solo piano piece. I compared this 63 with Fischer and Dorati from their complete sets. Dorati's makes it thick with poorly blended strings. Spillner's flows easily with a graceful elegance. Fischer's lithe performance is between these two, with a mid-sized orchestra and prominent woodwinds. Like Spillner he has a quiet harpsichord among the string players just to help keep things together. All three of these recordings use the version of this symphony without trumpets or timpani.

The other three symphonies here are less familiar, although 38 has turned up in some fine Sturm und Drang collections (Pinnock, Solomons, Bruggen). The booklet essay suggests that Symphony 37 was one of the earliest of all, when Haydn would have been as young as 25. Symphony 9 has no finale, ending with its Menuetto.

For small-ensemble Haydn, I consider the series well worth hearing. I have found it stimulating and enjoyable, collecting all of it. I am quite sad that Fey can't finish it.

MUFFAT, Gottlieb: Harpsichord Suites 2
Naoko Akutagawa
Naxos 8573275 -- 66 minutes

Akutagawa is an outstanding young harpsichordist with expressive touch and faultless taste. (...) Akutagawa recorded two of [the six suites] in her volume 1 (S/O 2013) before the book was published, and she presents the rest of the book here. These are premiere recordings. The music is extravagant and entertaining, with plenty of humorous touches. (...)

FRESCOBALDI: Harpsichord Pieces, Book 1 (1615/1637)
Christophe Rousset
Aparte 202 -- 78 minutes

Rousset plays about half the book, choosing 14 of the most familiar pieces without explanation. We get four variation sets (Follia, Monica, Romanesca, and the notorious Cento partite sopra passacagli), some short dances, and Toccatas 1, 3, and 6-10 (the book has 12). Rousset plays an original but anonymous 16th harpsichord that was rebuilt in 1736. (...) [In contrast with Roberto Loreggian's vivid and volatile performances,] Rousset makes the same music sound like more pensive improvisation. (...)

JACOBI: Harpsichord Concerto; Italian Songs; String Quartet; Serenade and Allegro for Accordions
Andreas Skouras, hpsi; Savoy Festival Orchestra/Sandor Karolyi; Marion Grange, sop; Ambroise de Rancourt, p; Arditti Qt; Dimitri Bouclier, accordion; Geneva Accordion Union/Pierre-Andre Krummenacher
Neos 11818 -- 57 minutes

Wolfgang Jacobi (1894-1972) was born in Rugen, an island in the Baltic. (...) Outside Germany his work appears to be little-known, except to accordion players. (...) The harpsichord concerto is from 1927 and revised 20 years later. It is neoclassical, sort of like Hugo Distler's harpsichord concerto of 1935. (...) The string quartet is from 1948, and this is its first recording. The two Italian songs were composed in 1954. (...) The Serenade and Allegro (1958) is a concertino for a soloist and orchestra playing accordions, plus percussion. (...) The performances all sound confident and presumably accurate. All of this is very impressive for a provincial Alpine festival celebrating a scarcely-known composer.

Inspirations: French Harpsichord Arrangements
D'Anglebert, Forqueray, Rameau
Melisande McNabney
Atma 2780 -- 67 minutes

Melisande McNabney (...) assembles a six-movement suite in C major from d'Anglebert's manuscripts, plus 16 minutes of individual pieces by him in other keys. Most of the pieces in the C major suite are d'Anglebert's arrangements from contemporary composers for lute. (...) McNabney plays six of the seven movements of Forqueray's Suite 5, but omits La Montigni without explanation. (...) Her harpsichord technique and taste are flawless. (...) [This] beautiful program from a young expert is interesting and well worth having.

FROBERGER: Clavichord Pieces
Johannes Bogner
Fra Bernardo 1703213 -- 54 minutes

This intimate program spotlights the moody expressivity of this phenomenally personal keyboard composer, Froberger--sort of a 17th century Chopin. (...) I liked Bogner's Scarlatti album similarly (J/A 2017). He is a sensitive player, great at conveying quiet intensity and concentration.

Some like it plucked
Patrick Ayrton, hpsi; Thomas Gould, v; Les Inventions
Globe 5272 -- 68 minutes

Ayrton is a French harpsichordist in his late 50s. Some of the pieces here are his light-hearted concert encores. He employs violinist Thomas Gould on three selections. (...) Most of these pieces are not available in other recordings on harpsichord. (...) Ayrton plays everything with humor and great verve. With informative notes, good sound, clever programming, and alert performances, we have a winning combination. (...)

Sep/Oct 2019

ATTAINGNANT: Harpsichord Pieces
Glen Wilson
Naxos 8572999--77 minutes

[Attaingnant's] keyboard music from 1531 is a collection of dances in a series of small books: pavanes, gaillardes, branles, et al. In this wonderful performance, Glen Wilson spends 53 minutes playing most of the pieces from these books. To fill the remaining space on the disc, he has selected 24 minutes of contemporary or slightly later French music to give some historical context around Attaingnant. (...) His anonymous Italian harpsichord might not be the most authentic choice for this old French repertoire, but it sounds good. (...)

BACH: Keyboard Pieces 2
Benjamin Alard, org & claviorganum; Gerlinde Samann, s
Harmonia Mundi 902453 [4CD] 264 minutes

Alard continues his venture to record all of Bach's organ and harpsichord music in roughly chronological sequence, along with pieces Bach had studied as models. This new volume's title is "Towards the North". Bach in his early 20s improved his art by studying the work of master organists: chiefly Bohm (1661-1733), Buxtehude (c1637-1707), Pachelbel (1653-1706), Bruhns (1665-1697), and Reincken (c1643-1722). (...) Alard plays some representative music by these composers (no Bohm or Bruhns). (...) For the first two discs, Alard has chosen a Schnitger-styled French organ (built in 2001) with three manuals and interesting tonal colors. (...) [There is] questionable historicism [in] the use of a claviorganum for the next two discs. (...) [Soprano Gerlinde] Samann and the claviorganum sound beautiful in this relatively simple music for organ without pedal. (...)

BACH: Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1
Steven Devine, hpsi
Resonus 10239 [2CD] 111 minutes

Chantal Stigliani, p
Calliope 1856 [2CD] 105 minutes

These two releases offer a contrast between compositional clarity (harpsichordist Steven Devine) and a disappointing blur (pianist Chantal Stigliani). Devine's is a satisfying interpretation. He finds a convincing manner for each piece, and avoids distracting the listener away from that focused character. His tempos never seem surprisingly fast or slow. He lets the music make its own way without much emphasis. (...) Stigliani on piano is less satisfactory. (...) Too much of this is like mindless piano etudes--legato, fast, and loud. (...) The interpretation makes the music sound like a series of harmonic events, not the interplay of contrapuntal melodies. (...)

BACH: Capriccio; Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue; Duets; Ricercars; Chorale Preludes
Ann-Helena Schluter, p
Hanssler 18090--67 minutes

Ann-Helena Schluter, a young pianist from Germany, offers a mostly introverted and introspective look into Bach's music. (...) Her interpretation is let down a bit by production flaws. (...) I'd still recommend purchase despite these annoyances. (...) She humbly lets us appreciate the music along with her, not commanding the attention to herself.

BACH FAMILY: Keyboard Duo Sonatas & Concertos
Raritan Players, hpsi and fortepiano
Acis 41769--63 minutes

(...) It explores the way affluent young ladies (often sisters) in salons promoted the production of music and instruments. (...) In this program we get compositions by Johann Sebastian, Wilhelm Friedemann, and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach that could have been heard in such salons with two good keyboard players. (...) The Raritan Players are harpsichordist Rebecca Cypess and whatever colleagues she needs for her performance projects. In this venture, it's fortepianist Yi-heng Yang. (...) The performance doesn't seem like a serious concert. It's compelling, like two cooperative sisters having an afternoon of fun trying out books of music at home. (...) This album could be better only if they could find a way to scent it with freshly-baked cookies. (...)

COUPERIN: Harpsichord Pieces, Book 4
Guillermo Brachetta
Resonus 10240 [2CD] 157 minutes

Francois Couperin's fourth and final book (1730) has his Ordres 20 to 27: suites of four to eight character pieces. Guillermo Brachetta is starting his complete journey through Couperin's music at this end of the road, before working backward toward the earlier music. (...) Brachetta typically keeps the pieces moving along briskly in a cleanly-articulated and pleasant manner. I sometimes wish he would be more willing to linger on details and phrase endings, listening to the bloom of the instrument's tone. (...) Cerasi, Cuiller, and Olivier Fortin (J/F 2019) all reveal the emotional content of Couperin's music more intensely than Brachetta. They also catch more of the humor. Michael Borgstede's interpretations are more spontaneous than any of these. (...)

COUPERIN: Royal Concerts
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset
Aparte 196--62 minutes

The Royal Concerts are four suites of five to seven movements, omitting some of the customary dances. (...) The instrumentation used here is violin, flute, oboe, viola da gamba, and harpsichord. It's like their set of Les Nations, too (M/J 2019). As I said in those reviews, "The music flows easily and the interpretation sounds objective. I'd like to hear more spontaneity and individual personality, more roughness to the blend, but the overall refined musicianship is easy to listen to and enjoy." (...)

FROBERGER: Harpsichord Suites 1
Gilbert Rowland
Athene 23204 [2CD] 120 minutes

Rowland plays 12 suites with all repeats. This album is advertised as "volume 1". Judging from the thoroughness of his previous recording projects, there are presumably three more volumes to come. It makes a favorable impression overall. When he finishes the series it should be a reliable reference set of all the suites. (...) The unspecified mild temperament sounds like Vallotti's. It fits the geniality of Rowland's interpretation. I am more pleased with this set than I was with his Mattheson (S/O 2017) or Handel. I still enjoy Bob van Asperen (M/A 2007 and S/O 2016) more than Rowland in all of these suites.

SCHALE: 5 Harpsichord Sonatas
Luigi Chiarizia
Urania 14048--47 minutes

This mercifully short program gives us previously unrecorded pieces by Christian Friedrich Schale (1713-1800). (...) These sonatas are like what early Haydn might have sounded like if he hadn't had any memorable ideas or humorous quirks. Chiarizia makes a decent effort at playing them, but his unimaginative delivery doesn't ameliorate the square phrasing or predictably dull sequences. (...) The harpsichord is disastrously out of tune in its unisons and its four-foot stop, sabotaging half the pieces. Ugh.

SCHULZ: Sonata; 6 Piano Pieces; WEYSE: Theme & Variations
Christine Schornsheim, fortepiano
Capriccio 5363--73 minutes

The pianistic style of Johann Abraham Peter Schulz (1747-1800) and Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse (also 1747-1800) sounds like a cross between CPE Bach's and Dussek's. It is impressively public music to make grand effects, showing off a keyboardist's dexterity and flair. Christine Schornsheim is terrific at this virtuosic manner. (...) The production has a few glitches. (...) The most dismaying problem is in the last of Schulz's pieces, [where] (...) there are suddenly two seconds of digital blitzing noise superimposed on the recording. (...) The music and Schornsheim's heroic performance are impressive--just watch out for the blemishes that aren't her fault. More than an hour of this program goes very, very well. (...)

Il Cembalo Transalpino
Sophie Yates, hpsi
Chandos 819--65 minutes

The album's [theme] (...) is the cross-fertilization of English and Italian musical ideas over the next 190 years. To illustrate that, Sophie Yates has made an apt selection of music from the collection in the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge. (...) The single-manual Italian harpsichord is also part of the Fitzwilliam museum's collection. It is about 400 years old. (...) [Yates] has a convincing declamatory manner in a piece by Striggio, but the other performances here are less free. Groups of four or eight notes often seem too strict and ordinary. The bigger compositional structures aren't always coherent, another challenge in this repertoire. There could have been more brinkmanship and passion, with a stronger sense of improvisation beyond cautious preparation. (...)

Nov/Dec 2019

COUPERIN: Harpsichord Pieces, all
Carole Cerasi
Metronome 1100 [10CD] 10 hours 35 minutes

(...) I have been studying this neatly boxed CD set for seven months, and urging expert colleagues to do the same. It shows why we need music in our lives--for emotion and dignity. A performance this noble and perfect shows why expertise and thorough preparation are important, even though prominent people in our decaying culture assert that expertise is to be disdained. This music shows why it still matters to get things right. (...) There is no eccentricity in the interpretation. Cerasi is alert, reliable, sensitive, brilliant, perfectly practiced, graceful, and humble before this core music of the repertoire. (...) It's some of the best harpsichord playing I have heard all year. The impression Cerasi projects is not "wow, this is an impressive player!", but "wow, this music is so well written!" (...)

BACH: French Overture S 831

with English Suite 6; Sarabande S 990
Nils Anders Mortensen, p
Lawo 1174--72 minutes

with French Suite 1; 9 Sinfonias
Diana Boyle, p
Divine Art 25190 [2CD] 85 minutes

(...) Nils Anders Mortensen is a Norwegian pianist born in 1971. (...) He plays Bach on the piano better than the superstars (Richter, Kempff, Argerich, Hewitt, Gould, Tureck, et al). It's up there with Beatrice Rana's Goldbergs (J/A 2017). He adds exquisite melodic embellishment to all three pieces--some of the best I have heard on any instrument. He also brings in improvised left-hand lines and chords in ways that make the music more beautiful, not as distractions. (...)

Diana Boyle (...) uses absurdly slow and unsteady tempos. (...) She adds incoherent ritardandos that make her slow tempos drag further. Her touch is a boring constant staccato. Dynamics are terrible: the notes are either almost inaudible, or pounded in isolation far too loudly and roughly. Her rhythms lack energetic springiness. (...) [She also fails in] basic counting of the meter. (...)

BACH, CPE: Keyboard Pieces 38
Miklos Spanyi, hpsi
BIS 2337--79 minutes

The program collects some of the earliest pieces by this composer, when he was a teenager. Most are trifles. (...) [Spanyi plays a] modern Ammer harpsichord built in 1948. (...) This mediocre instrument and the performance make these charming little pieces heavier-footed than they ought to be, removing their sparkle and humor. Spanyi is a much more sensitive clavichordist and tangent pianist than harpsichordist. (...) He sounds dutiful and bored when reading through the easy passages, as if his fingers are moving on autopilot--unwilling to invest the music with more levels of interest. (...) Within this generally good series now into its third decade, the present volume is a surprising disappointment. (...)

HAYDN: The Seven Last Words of Christ
Nicolas Stavy, p
BIS 2429 [SACD] 63 minutes

This was recorded in 2006 and released by Mandala as a conventional CD. (...) Nicolas Stavy provides good characterization of the music's sentiments, and he has a delicate piano touch that makes the quiet sections lovely. His rendition of the concluding earthquake movement is underwhelming, but that's really the fault of the Artaria arrangement having a thin texture (like the string quartet version). (...) The F minor variations (15 minutes) are similarly refined and beautiful in Stavy's performance. (...) Between these variations and the main attraction of Haydn's devotional adagios, this is a beautiful piano record.

SAMMARTINI: 18 Harpsichord Sonatas
Simonetta Heger
Dynamic 7841--63 minutes

The composer is Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700-1775), not to be confused with his brother Giuseppe (1695-1750). (...) These sonatas are short, like Domenico Scarlatti's, and almost all in major keys. They have typical keyboard techniques: pulsing bass notes, syncopated melodies, arpeggios, and some hand crossing. The ideas are developed well, not merely falling into lazy sequences of repetition. While not ideal, Heger's performance is easy to listen to. (...) Because this is the only recording of these sonatas, so far, there is scope for further exploration. Perhaps another harpsichordist or pianist could emphasize the grander effects in these pieces, coming from a composer who specialized in the big stage. Until then, this CD is recommendable anyway for the interesting repertoire.

SCARLATTI: 11 Mandolin Sonatas
Pizzicar Galante
Outhere 115--60 minutes

The core sonatas here are K 77, 81, 88, 89, 90, and 91--all in more than one movement each, and for unspecified instrumentation in the source. (...) Pizzicar Galante from Parma gives us those six sonatas plus 13 minutes of additional pieces: their new arrangements of K 35, 61, 73, 78, and 85. (...) Ensemble personnel are Anna Schivazappa, mandolins; Ronald Martin Alonso, viola da gamba; Daniel de Morais, theorbo and guitar; and Fabio Antonio Falcone, harpsichord. (...)

SPERGHER: Organ and Harpsichord Pieces
Chiara Minali
Brilliant 95834 [3CD] 211 minutes

Ignazio Spergher (1734-1808) lived in Treviso (near Venice and Padua) his whole life. (...) Almost everything here is claimed to be the world premiere recording. We get 79 minutes of harpsichord pieces and 142 of organ. This doesn't seem like a major discovery, but the pieces are pleasant and logical: like Soler's sonatas. (...) Chiara Minali plays a two-manual organ built in 1903. She changes her registrations as often as possible, almost like a colorful orchestration. (...) She sounds less comfortable when playing on her single-manual harpsichord, a 2008 copy of the 1681 Giusti. She doesn't bring enough range into her timing or releases, except in the slowest pieces. (...) There is nothing horribly wrong with her harpsichord performance, but I'd like to hear what a more resourceful player would find deeper in these sonatas.

Ars Longa: Old and new music for theorbo
Elizabeth Kenny
Linn 603 -- 76 minutes

(...) There are seven pieces from a 1623 book by Alessandro Piccinini, three from 1640 by Kapsberger, plus a suite and two other pieces by Robert de Visee, as found in a 1699 manuscript. The new pieces were written for Kenny by Nico Muhly, Benjamin Oliver, and Sir James MacMillan. (...) Oliver's piece (...) makes the theorbo sound like an electric guitar. It's like a soliloquy full of emotional outbursts. Muhly's (...) is a lullaby that gets into freely dissonant chords, agitated runs, and harmonics. (...) [The early pieces are fine, but] the urgent reason to acquire Kenny's program is the 21st-century compositions.

Jan/Feb 2020

BACH: Art of Fugue; 4 Duetti; Ricercars
Pieter-Jan Belder, hpsi & clavichord; Gerard de Wit, hpsi
Brilliant 96035 [2CD] 118 minutes

This superlative performance on harpsichord is one of the most lucid I have heard in 40 years of studying the piece. (...) [Belder plays with] a gently unequal lilt that sounds convincing to me. Most other harpsichordists, pianists, organists, and ensembles simply play the notes equally. (...) Belder plays the two sets of mirror fugues especially well. (...) Belder takes 83 minutes for the Art of Fugue. The remaining 35 minutes are for well-chosen fillers from similarly late in Bach's life as a contrapuntist. (...) It is good to have the Musical Offering's two ricercars included in these straightforward performances. Belder brings the same clarity and noble dignity that he brought to the Art of Fugue. (...)

BONELLI: Keyboard Pieces, all
Federico del Sordo, org, hpsi, clavichord
Brilliant 95816 -- 55 minutes

Aurelio Bonelli (c1569-after 1620) was from Bologna, working as both a composer and a painter. (...) Not knowing the composer's identity, a listener might guess that these are by one of the Gabrielis. (...) For the recording, del Sordo did almost everything himself: he made his edition, performed, engineered and produced the recordings, wrote the notes, and credited himself with the photography. He played organ for 12 pieces, harpsichord for six, and clavichord for the other two. (...) He sounds better at organ and clavichord than harpsichord, where I felt he could bring more expressive range to his timing and releases of the notes. (...) I'd like to hear more from del Sordo, perhaps playing some of Christian Erbach's organ music that is contemporary with and similar to this. (...)

KAPSBERGER: Theorbo Pieces
Fred Jacobs
Metronome 1093 -- 60 minutes

Jonas Nordberg
BIS 2417 -- 70 minutes

(...) Kapsberger aficionados need both of these albums--one can never have too much from this fine composer. (...) Nordberg's performance sounds like inspired spontaneous invention, where Jacobs's sounds like perfectly prepared and reproduced composition. If I had to keep only one of these CDs, it would be Nordberg's because of the stronger gravitas and range of character, but Jacobs is also terrific. (...)

VIVALDI: String Concertos & Sinfonias
L'Archicembalo
Brilliant 95835 [4CD] 264 minutes

These are ensemble concertos, with no separate violin soloist. (...) We get 40 concertos and 11 sinfonias. This represents most of Vivaldi's catalog numbers between RV 110 and 168. (...) The group's interpretation is straightforward, and the music is clever and pleasant. The effects come naturally from the compositions without over-emphasis. Other string ensembles have recorded some of these concertos, but I haven't heard one that included them all. (...) L'Archicembalo's low-priced set is easily recommendable.

Domenico Scarlatti Alio Modo: Scarlatti, Soler, Lopez, de Albero, de Albeniz
Amaya Fernandez Pozuelo, hpsi
Stradivarius 37140 -- 67 minutes

(...)This is a master class in free interpretation of harpsichord music. Amaya Fernandez Pozuelo bends things to breaking points, and beyond, but the expressive logic of every gesture makes sense. (...) Tempos are often very slow, but there is always something to discover in every moment. Her Scarlatti sonatas are Kirkpatrick numbers 213, 1, 201, 98, 184, and 115. The other pieces by Felix Lopez, Sebastian de Albero, Mateo de Albeniz, and Antonio Soler are less familiar. (...) [Comparisons with recordings by Diego Ares and Gustav Leonhardt....]

Toccata from Claudio Merulo to Johann Sebastian Bach
Andrea Buccarella, hpsi
Ricercar 407 -- 59 minutes

(...) This is a chronological survey of 11 toccatas by Merulo, Picchi, Michelangelo Rossi, Frescobaldi (first book), Sweelinck, Froberger, Kerll, Buxtehude, Weckmann, Reincken, Bach (S 912 in D major). (...) This is Andrea Buccarella's debut recording, apparently part of his prize for winning a 2018 harpsichord competition in Bruges. (...) Buccarella's fluency with his music is inspiring, but in a strange way that fluency is also a liability. His accelerations and ritards are always carefully graded and premeditated, like riding exceptionally smooth public transit that never has a jerky start or stop. It's comfortable, but it prevents the music being as startling and intense as it could be. (...) Anyway, he is clearly a brilliant and well-prepared performer and ready for a big career. (...)

Mar/Apr 2020

BACH: Goldberg Variations
George Malcolm, hpsi
Decca Eloquence 482 8439 -- 79 minutes

Malcolm's 1961 performance is pleasant entertainment for sleepless nights--ostensibly the point of the piece. The sound in this reissue is more than adequate, as this brilliant long-gone recording returns to circulation. (...) Malcolm at age 44 was at his best. Yes, there are arguable flaws: a few finger slips, the playing style is unfashionable, this harpsichord has weird tone without much resonance, its voicing is uneven, and the slow variations could have been made more interesting. Well, so what? The musicianship is overwhelming. This is joy. (...)

BACH: Partitas
Angela Hewitt, p
Hyperion 68271 [2CD] 150 minutes

Hewitt first recorded these long and complicated suites in 1996-97 (Hyperion, not reviewed). For this remake in December 2018, she wanted to document her newer understandings of the music from the additional 20 years of performing it, and to show off the tonal effects she can get from her Fazioli piano. (...) [Earlier, her] interpretation was simpler and more intimate. In the new recording, she plays a loud and too-consistent staccato bass, not giving much harmonic support to the right-hand voices but only punctuating the rhythm. (...) Listening to Hewitt I don't feel emotions arising from the music. I hear careful preparation to keep anything from ever going wrong. I yearn for more irregularity and spontaneity. (...) Hewitt's fans will probably be happy with either set, or want both to hear the ways her ideas have changed over the years.

BACH: Italian Concerto; Chorale Preludes; Transcriptions; SCARLATTI: 5 Sonatas
Polina Osetinskaya, p
Melodiya 10 02602 -- 74 minutes

(...) Too much of this program is ponderous, rhythmically stiff, and bangy. She uses a more delicate touch for the last few pieces, but her interpretation there (of the "devotional shawl over Bach" type) is cautious and boring. (...) Osetinskaya's Scarlatti sonatas are K 98, 377, 87, 32, and 141 interspersed among the Bach pieces. (...) The pianist says this album is to be heard as if it were a single piece, as "my protest against the present time, when you have no time for anything at all; this slow pace is important to talk to yourself." Perhaps the project has been therapeutic for her, and will move some other listeners in that way. (...)

COUPERIN: Les Nations; Suites of Viol Pieces
Jacobean Ensemble; Desmond Dupre & Dennis Nesbitt, viola da gamba; Thurston Dart, hpsi
Decca Eloquence 482 8544 [2CD] 137 minutes

(...) Here is a classic recording from 60 years ago, played (...) by strings alone. (...) This recording is a time capsule regarding historical performance practices in the 20th century. The often-continuous vibrato from Marriner and Pini seems out of place now, but pleasant enough. Dupre and Nesbitt are more subtle and sparing with theirs. (...) Dart's harpsichord realizations of the continuo parts sound more like written-out arrangements than fresh improvisation: rhythmically square and sometimes distracting with melodic imitation. Eloquence's sound is fine for the reissue.

GERVASIO: Mandolin Sonatas
Marco Giacintucci; Walter D'Arcangelo, hpsi
Tactus 720702 -- 76 minutes

Giovanni Battista Gervasio was born around 1725 and died sometime after 1786. He played and taught mandolin in the big European cities and courts, and wrote a textbook. (...) This is like Lite Classic FM music to hear unobtrusively in the background at a gift shop, never fully grabbing the attention. It's pleasant and sweet, with good sound. (...) You can't get these nice pieces anywhere else.

SCARLATTI: Sonatas 3
Christoph Ullrich, p
Tacet 247 [3CD] 224 minutes

(...) This box labeled "Volume 3" includes 49 sonatas: K 98-146, presented in numerical sequence. [Ullrich] makes a superficially attractive sound: most often settling for his default articulations of pearly detached notes of consistent lengths and volume within the phrases. His perfect preparation comes across more as pianistic virtuosity (steady regularity) than as musical expression. He is good at poise, dignity, and evenness. Nothing ever goes "wrong" here, except for his disinclination to search the depths of the pieces. (...)

SWEELINCK: Harpsichord Pieces
Richard Egarr
Linn 589 -- 76 minutes

Egarr has chosen his favorite 11 of the approximately 50 available pieces by Sweelinck that work well on harpsichord: toccatas, fantasias, variations, and the arrangement of John Dowland's Lachrymae. (...) Egarr brings his usual interpretive virtues and quirks. He employs super-legato "overholding" to smudge the notes together for more harpsichord resonance, and he freely bends the rhythms within slowish tempos. He uses the academically proper old-style scale fingerings, but not as an end in itself. (...) Overall, his studied casualness sounds like relaxed play. (...)

TURRINI: 12 Harpsichord Sonatas
Michele Barchi
Brilliant 95522 [2CD] 122 minutes

Ferdinando Turrini was born in 1745, and lost his sight in his 20s. He continued a long and busy career in Padua and Brescia as an organist, improviser, and composer. His two sets of six keyboard sonatas here sound like Beethoven's early ones when played on harpsichord--with similar figurations and style, but from about 15 years earlier. (...) Barchi's lively and fluent performances include convincingly integrated improvisations. The set is a worthy way to hear these obscure pieces. (...)

Cembalo Avantgarde
Kristian Nyquist, hpsi
Musicaphon 55723 -- 67 minutes

This is a concert recording mostly from 2004, with compositions by Violeta Dinescu, Hans Werner Henze, Peter Heeren, John Patrick Thomas, Anders Eliasson, and Roderick de Man. One short piece by Isang Yun is from a 2015 concert. Half of the pieces are claimed to be first recordings. Nyquist's performances sound earnest and confident. (...) The generally noisy conditions yield a recording too flawed for repeated listening. It might suffice until someone makes more carefully-controlled studio recordings of these pieces. (...)

May/Jun 2020

BACH: Concertos for 2 Harpsichords; Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat (S 552)
Olivier Fortin & Emmanuel Frankenberg, hpsi; Ensemble Masques
Alpha 572 -- 60 minutes

(...) The ensemble plays in tune and together, but there is little personality to this interpretation. (...) Readers will have their own favorites, not challenged by these performances. (...) The E-flat Prelude and Fugue (S 552) is in a simple uncredited arrangement for two harpsichords. (...) The fugue is more successful than the prelude. Fortin and Frankenberg could have been more enterprising than this, perhaps improvising some continuo chords or distributing the parts antiphonally, but I don't hear it. (...)

BACH: Well-Tempered Clavier

Book 2
Colin Booth, hpsi
Soundboard 219 [2CD] 148 minutes

Book 2
Dominique Merlet, p
Le Palais des Degustateurs 008 [2CD] 121 minutes

Book 1
Dominique Merlet, p
Le Palais des Degustateurs 015 [2CD] 109 minutes

As he did with Book 1 (M/A 2019), Booth produces a stimulating performance on a harpsichord he designed and built. Along with his booklet essay, his work is a master class presenting new ideas about rhythmic profiles, tempo, and ornamentation. (...) Book 2 here has the same virtues. He demonstrates a remarkably effective formula for playing Bach on the harpsichord: pick a patient and steady tempo, install a very subtle rhythmic inequality into your brain, and then let the piece play itself out easily with intuitive musicianship. (...)

With pianist Dominique Merlet, Book 2 lacks enough interpretive direction. (...) Other than choosing to use pedal, or not, Merlet doesn't find much variety within the music. His articulations and dynamics don't bring surprising details. The delivery is unsteady, too: his left hand comes along for the ride, trying to keep up, instead of leading the music firmly from the bass. (...) He brings to Book 1 a mishmash of ideas from the Carl Czerny edition (many changed notes, an extra measure in Prelude 1, added octaves, long legato phrasing) and Frederic Chopin's hand-marked copy of parts of it. (...) In both books, it sometimes sounds like a struggle just to keep the notes together accurately--probably not what a collector wants from a recording for years of enjoyment. (...)

BACH: Partitas
Robert Levin, p
Le Palais des Degustateurs 017 [3CD] 140 minutes

Levin sets a firm and reasonable dance tempo for each movement, and then plays with simple articulations and dynamics (...). Preserving the meter and harmonic progressions, he improvises very freely in the repeats, and he adds cadenzas within most of the opening movements. The improvisations don't sound like typical half-hearted pianistic graffiti, but they go much farther melodically. (...) Levin has been improvising within Bach's and later music for more than 30 years, and it shows. (...) The intelligence and freedom make this set easy to recommend, at least to hear the extensive elaborations in personalizing the music.

BACH: English Suites
Andrew Rangell, p
Steinway & Sons 30136 [2CD] 134 minutes

Rangell's program notes say he is aware of the stylistic blend of Italian, French, and German influences on Bach, but the performance doesn't bring these out enough. His interpretive profile is to convert most of this music into loud and fast piano pieces in their own style. (...) His phrasing often makes the music sound angry, not graceful. (...)

BACH: Magna Sequentia II
Sonia Rubinsky, p
Naxos 8.574027 -- 69 minutes

The so-called "Magna Sequentia" is a suite of assorted Bach pieces assembled by the performer. At the beginning, middle, and end, we get most of the movements from the French Ouverture (S 831), but the two Gavottes and the Sarabande are missing. In exchange, we get 40 minutes of dances drawn from Bach's other suites and partitas. (...) Juilliard-trained Brazilian pianist Sonia Rubinsky plays very well. (...) Her Bach style tends toward the melancholic, and her engineers gave the recording a soft-focused tone. (...)

BACH: Partita 6; RAMEAU: Suite in E Minor; SCHNITTKE: Suite in Ancient Style
Denys Proshayev, Nadia Mokhtari, p
Piano (Brilliant) 10179 -- 68 minutes

(...) [Proshayev] plays Bach's music cleanly but is too literal with note lengths and rhythms. (...) The Rameau suite has restless energy and some quiet grace, but also some mishaps along the way whenever Proshayev pushes the tempos faster than he can control. (...) Alfred Schnittke's lightweight and prim Suite in Ancient Style (...) is the best part of the program. (...)

BUXTEHUDE: Harpsichord Pieces; BACH: Pastorale
Ulla Kappel, hpsi; Janos Sebestyen, org
Danacord 852 -- 74 minutes

This 1986 recording is of some time-capsule interest. Kappel, a harpsichordist and organist in Copenhagen at the time, played a Neupert harpsichord in equal temperament. Her style seems quaint now. (...) Sebestyen's 1984 demo recording on a 1983 organ in Stuttgart gets its first publication here: short dances by Pasquini and Martini, and Bach's Pastorale (S 590). (...) His interpretation is suitably genteel. (...)

The Long 17th Century
Daniel-Ben Pienaar, p
Avie 2415 [2CD] 151 minutes

"The long 17th century" refers to the represented time span of this enterprising survey of keyboard music: from about 1570 to 1710. Most of this music hasn't been recorded on piano before. There are 36 pieces by Buxtehude, Byrd, Kuhnau, Sweelinck, Frescobaldi, Cabanilles, Correa Braga, Bull, Froberger, Kerll, d'Anglebert, and 26 other composers. (...) If we had a rating system, I would give Pienaar 10 out of 10 for repertoire here, and 7 for his interpretation: losing some points mainly because he plays so much of the music too fast to be heard clearly. (...) Recommended, anyway, for the adventure.

July/August 2020

Sept/Oct 2020

Nov/Dec 2020

Jan/Feb 2021


Best of Year 2015

DUPHLY: Harpsichord Pieces (Hamada) LiveNotes 7784, N/D

BIRD: The Oriental Miscellany (Chapman) Signum 415, N/D

Best of Year 2016

Mersenne's Clavichord (Charlston) Divine Art 25134, J/F: 190

BACH: Violin Sonatas (Schayegh, Halubek) Glossa 923507 [2CD], J/A

ROMAN: Keyboard Sonatas 7-12; AGRELL: Sonata 2 (Paradiso) BIS 2135, J/A

MOZART: Piano Sonatas 1-6 (Prosseda) Decca 4812632 [2CD], S/O

MOZART: Harpsichord Duets (Timpanaro, Policardo) Stradivarius 37045, N/D

Best of Year 2017

FORQUERAY: Harpsichord Pieces (Taylor) Alpha 247, J/F

BACH: Toccatas, Fantasias, Preludes, Fugues, Pastorale (Watchorn) Musica Omnia 512 [3CD], M/J

Orpheus Descending (Edwards) Early 7778, M/J: 165

Il Cembalo di Partenope (Vicens) Carpe Diem 16312, J/A: 186

Conversations (Minkin, Shemer) Omnibus 5012, S/O: 180

DODGSON: Harpsichord Inventions (Likhina) Naxos 970262, N/D

Mad Dog (Smith) Naive 8940, N/D: 236

Best of Year 2018

HOWELLS: Lambert's Clavichord, Howells' Clavichord (Perkins) Prima Facie 65, J/F

Le Coeur & l'Oreille (Nuti) Arcana 434, J/F: 200

SCHEIDEMANN: Organ & Harpsichord Pieces (Rassam) Brilliant 95427 [2CD], M/J

JACQUET: Harpsichord Pieces (Lanfranco) Brilliant 95555 [2CD], J/A

LIGETI: Harpsichord Pieces; SCARLATTI: 12 Sonatas (Taylor) Alpha 399, N/D

MCLEAN: Harpsichord Sonatas; JANELLO: Concerto for Two; Toccata-Rondo (Funaro, Pechefsky, Biggs) Alienor 1210, N/D

Best of Year 2019

JOHANNES OF LUBLIN: Keyboard Tablature (Marti) Brilliant 95556, J/F

Fitzwilliam Virginal Book 6 (Belder) Brilliant 95458, J/F: 176

PACHELBEL: Keyboard Pieces, all (Stella) Brilliant 95623 [13CD], M/J

BACH: Violin Concertos (Faust) Harmonia Mundi 902335 [2CD], J/A

COUPERIN: Harpsichord Pieces, all (Cerasi) Metronome 1100 [10CD], N/D

BACH: French Overture; English Suite 6; Sarabande (Mortensen) LAWO 1174, N/D

Best of Year 2020

BACH: Art of Fugue; 4 Duets; Ricercars (Belder) Brilliant 96035, J/F

BACH: Harpsichord Concertos 1, 2, 4, 7 (Corti) Pentatone 5186837, J/A

Organic Creatures (Vicens) Consouling Sounds 139, J/A: 147

2 Lutes With Grace (Lewon & Kieffer) Naxos 573854, J/A: 162

Filippo Dalla Casa Collection (Zapico) Winter & Winter 910258, S/O: 123

Fitzwilliam Virginal Book 7 (Belder) Brilliant 95648, S/O: 124



An artistic Credo:

Great performance is a creative and imaginative act of communication, speaking directly to the audience in the language of musical speech and gesture. It is not an attempt to articulate another person's intentions exactly, which is impossible. Nor is it a slavish adherence to instructions, a supposedly selfless attempt to reproduce some platonically perfect work according to a set of rules. A performer must bring the music to life today, with exactly the right expression relevant to the actual moment.

Historical knowledge is helpful insofar as it encourages performers to be more insightful, expressive, and communicative: recognizing the music's character and its native language, identifying its unique features, taking all of that to heart, and finding some way to bring it out. It can free performers from the deadly habit of not thinking--as long as it does not simply replace that with some different habit of not thinking! At its best, historical techniques of expression enlarge a performer's imagination and command of the musical language (vocabulary, syntax, and usage patterns). It sparks one to approach the music in a vital and creative manner, today, thinking and feeling like a composer or improvisor in the moment of inspiration: coming to the performance with fluent language and something to say. Such is the type of performance that allows the music to live and breathe, as natural communication among living souls. - BPL, 4/12/03