*Home | *Essays | *Professional | *Productions | *Personal

Dr. Bradley Lehman

Dayton, Virginia

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. (...)

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

This is a co-publication by the Kunst Historisches Museum of Vienna (, 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

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

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 Voncertos; 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. (...)

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. (...)

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

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 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.

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. (...)


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, sop
Harmonia Mundi 902450 [3CD] 248 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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