Our October Recital – Pamela Nash: ‘From Anonymous to Andriessen’
The Handel House Museum: Tuesday 14th October 2008
Those who missed Pamela Nash’s recital at the Handel House last night missed a high point in the BHS series. Her programme was ingeniously planned, wonderfully varied and rhythmically inspiring. It would have restored faith in solo harpsichord recitals to anyone who had developed doubts. It is a rare experience to hear Louis Couperin played with the dignity that belongs to seventeenth century France, and above all with illuminating clarity. How often does the maxim: ‘Ce qui n’est pas clair n’est pas français’ apply? The wonderful Allemande grave of the F major suite had an almost processional, but at the same time deeply expressive, character, belief in the Courante being the most dignified French dance became a reality and the Chaconne got as near to the grandeur of a Lully opera as is possible on one harpsichord. Scarlatti’s infectiously humorous sonata K 441 separated the Louis Couperin from Böhm’s great Prelude, Fugue and Postlude, all too seldom heard, and Scarlatti’s K125 separated that from a group of dances culminating in a Byrd Pavan and Galliard. Never can the intricate rhythms of the Byrd Galliard have been more clearly defined and the desire to dance greater. Another Scarlatti sonata , K28, separated these dances from Andriessen’s Overture to Orpheus, an extended piece whose simple motives, played with one hand on each manual, revealed astonishing sonorities and retained it mesmeric mood throughout. In this recital one felt a deep respect for the composer’s intentions, everything deriving from the musical score itself. From the expressive beauty of the Byrd Pavan to the basic fun of the anonymous renaissance dances, this was a recital to remember.
Jory Vinikour concert at St John’s Smith Square- 14th September 2008
Amongst a good-sized audience, there seemed to be few harpsichordists present for the well-received second performance of the Cyril Scott concerto for harpsichord and chamber orchestra. A mere seventy years later than the first performance, this took place at St John’s Smith Square on Monday 14th September.
Jory Vinikour played both the Scott Concerto and the Walter Leigh Concertino, ably accompanied by the youthful Orion Symphony Orchestra in this concert entitled ‘England Rediscovered’, under the baton of Toby Purser. As understanding is enhanced by works of art that are selected to be hung in close juxtaposition, so it was an interesting opportunity to hear these works in the context of such a programme. The concert included Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, in which Purser coaxed a most touching pianissimo from the orchestra, and Vaughan Williams’ great Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, in which Purser aimed, and succeeded, in giving us ‘a glimpse of something of eternal beauty’.
Amongst those present that I knew, there was agreement that the amplification of the harpsichord was not entirely satisfactory; but opinion was divided as to whether the large-scale, virtuosic but antiphonal Scott of 1937 or the more delicate, elegant and unified Leigh of 1934 was the better: with so few concerti of this period from which to select, I hardly feel we should be choosy, but grateful indeed to Vinikour for unearthing this substantial work, making parts from the handwritten score for publication and, hopefully, recording it forthwith.
Our September Recital – Ketil Haugsand: ‘The Best of the French ’
The Handel House Museum: Tuesday 9th September 2008 at 6.30pm
Professor Haugsand began his recital with the Suite in re mineur (1706) by Louis Marchand. The Prèlude was a masterclass in ornamentation and notes inégales. The intricate cross rhythms of the Courantes were exhilarating, and in the Sarabande, the underlying pulse, evenly maintained, added to the depth of the movement. After a lively Gigue, the work ended with a Chaconne – scintillating passagework between imposing chordal passages.
The second work in the recital was Pièces de Viole mises en Pièces de Clavecin (1745) composed by Jean Baptiste Antoine Forqueray (le fils). These were three movements composed as additions to a set of viol movements transcribed by Madame Forqueray. Professor Haugsand executed the rapid passagework, punctuated with dense chordal phrases, of the first piece, La Angrave, with great virtuosity. The second piece, La du Vaucel, was wonderfully pensive and reflective, sensitively played, in which Professor Haugsand was able to bring out the fine resonances of the lower registers of the instrument. The final piece, La Morangis ou La Plissay, Chaconne, was a contrasting set of variations, becoming ever more complex, based in a four-bar ground.
The final work was a selection of movements from the Pièces de Clavecin (1724/8) by Jean Philippe Rameau. The first piece, Les Trois Mains, required much hand-crossing and use of both manuals extending over the entire compass of the instrument: it was dexterously executed. There followed a Sarabande, which, for Professor Haugsand, was the finest of the selection. The aptly-named Les Tourbillons received a truly whirlwind performance, complete with lightning arpeggios. L’Entretien des Muse was played with deep feeling – a piece which demonstrated the fine tonal quality of the instrument, in both upper and lower registers. The final piece, the well-known Les Niais de Sologne, was brilliantly executed, the barnstorming finish bringing the selection to a satisfying conclusion.
After much appreciative applause, Professor Haugsand gave as an encore the Arioso from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, contemplatively played, which left us with a sense of extreme peace. Altogether a truly memorable evening.
Janiculum concert at the Wallace Collection – 4th September 2009
Shakespeare’s villain Edmund famously expects gods to stand up for bastards, so perhaps it is not unreasonable for the staff of the Wallace Collection to expect audiences to stand up for music. But it is difficult to concentrate on fine music under such conditions, and one cannot help but feel affronted on the musicians’ behalf when people move about, look around, and even talk during a performance. The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, where currently a harpsichord by Andrew Garlick is in residence, is in some respects an ideal venue for music; but clearly the Collection authorities need to take the needs of an audience far more seriously.
The lecture on Boucher and Chardin that preceded the concert was indeed interesting and informative – surety we need more events that draw parallels between the arts; and Jane Clark (whose ensemble, Janiculum, played the music) had devised a programme to match the pictures and their cultural background – the sort of thing that is Janiculum’s speciality. A pity, then, that the lecture was held as far away from the music as possible – in a building where the lifts were not working. By the time those of us who obediently attended the lecture had struggled up to the appropriate gallery, the completely inadequate seating was occupied and people were already standing. After generous efforts have been made by others to provide an instrument and arrange programmes of music, the location organisers have an obvious duty to provide the audience with chairs and the performers with silence.
The music, of course, was marvellous. Janiculum played with all their usual subtlety and expertise. The only regret was that in the space of a short lunch-time programme, it was not possible to hear the players in all combinations; but there were brief opportunities to appreciate again the poised elegance of John Trussler’s violin playing, which can be delicate and yet incisive as the music demands. Sadly we did not hear ’cellist Graham Walker in a prominent role on this occasion, but the dialogue of gently bouncing rhythms between violin and ’cello in a short sequence of pieces by Mouret was a high point. Soprano Marie Vassiliou was well featured in the programme: her rich tone and impressive power effortlessly filled a very large gallery, in which sound could easily be lost. She always offers a rewarding as well as enjoyable listening experience, as she is such a strongly communicative performer, conveying the mood of each piece to the obvious delight of the audience. And it is always fascinating to hear Jane Clark playing Couperin (though, regrettably, there was time only for a little), because one is aware of being in touch with an expert on the subject. But whatever she plays, Jane brings a sense of significance to the music. In addition to some Couperin, she offered a little-known piece by Duphly, conveying a paradoxical sense of the dogged and the wistful that seemed to suit music whose background was the exiled Jacobite community in France. Interestingly, she matched that with a very well-known piece, Rameau’s ‘La Poule’, which she performed not as a little comic turn, but as a miniature tragedy: an experiment for which there is clear justification, and which one could readily look forward to hearing again.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Fantasia Cromatica, sonates & transcriptions
Clavecin a Pedalier by Nicolas Macheret
Passionate about Bach and the sound of German harpsichords, Rechsteiner commissioned a double manual harpsichord with separate pedal harpsichord in the North German style from Nicolas Macheret.
For a detailed account of this instrument click here.
The result is this stunning recording of Bach keyboard works and arrangements to suit a rare instrument. There is little surviving evidence of pedal harpsichords to work from and this recreation relied more on the maker’s savoir-faire than a minutely detailed copy of a relic. There is certainly documentary evidence to support the existence and use of these instruments in the German repertoire, however alien it may be to the Flemish and French traditions.
There has been much debate in the past over what was “Bach’s harpsichord”. This makes no claims to be such a beast. It is a creation to explore the possibilities of such an instrument in a historic context. This is no revival harpsichord with a leather plectrumed 16′ stop underscoring the principal 8′. It brings out a full clear separate bass voice allowing intricate harmony from both hands.
Combine this with Rechsteiner’s scholarship and spine tingling playing and you get one of the most exciting recordings heard for some time. Can’t wait for the next one.
Musica Sor Prendiente del Monasterio de San Pedro de Las Dueñas
Luisa Morales – harpsichord
Caskabel s.l. CD-151
Total Time 45mins 32 seconds
This CD contains 13 pieces, many of which the Spanish harpsichordist Luisa Morales discovered in the archives of the Monasterio de San Pedro de Las Dueñas in the province of León, Northern Spain. There are sonatas by well-known composers such as Scarlatti and Soler, the others by composers almost unknown except to specialists in the field of 18th century Spanish keyboard music. The harpsichord used is by J Martí- P Yègre after Christian Zell (Hamburg 1728) and is tuned to A = 420 using the Vallotti temperament.
The cover offers little indication of what awaits on the CD- a sombre black with a photograph of the Virgin of the Barrio on the front, and a head-and-shoulders photo of Señora Morales dressed in black against a section of arch on the back, and the titles of the pieces in a miniscule white type. However, the music contained is a far cry in its vivacity and variety from the almost monochrome sombreness of the cover.
The first piece played here is an anonymous Fandango, with only the RH written out in the MS. Luisa Morales supplies the LH using the traditional tonic-dominant sequence, the work unfolding in a progressively exciting manner, not of the scale of Soler, but certainly a good opener for a CD. She continues with a sonata on the 5th Tone Punto Alto (ie D major), the only work known so far by Sebastián Tomás. Added ornamentation and change of manuals brings extra sparkle to this lively piece in 3/8, each section ending with repeated chords as a contrast to the 2-part texture. Following this is an anonymous sonata, also in D, this time in 3 / 4. Also predominantly in 2-part texture, each section contains a contrasting passage with the RH playing at the top of the compass against LH quavers in arpeggiated formation. Again the formal structure is pointed by manual changes. A lively sonata in G by José de Nebra is one of a small number that have survived, and the Gayta Zamorana imitates the sound of bagpipes. There follows a sonata in G (R45) by Soler, and four sonatas by Scarlatti. Luisa Morales takes all of these sonatas at a slower speed than some players, but succeeds rather better at capturing the twists and turns in the harmonies, and imparting greater clarity to the tricky extended semiquaver arpeggios and passages in thirds. K491 in D is based on a bolero rhythm, and its companion K492, although marked Presto, is again taken at a tempo which allows the demisemiquaver runs to appear clearly and with clarity. In sonatas K443 and 429 passages towards the end of the pieces are transposed down an octave to fit the available compass. A sonata on the 6th Tone by Juan Moreno y Polo is in the rhythm of the Jaleo de Jerez, its 3/8 being in semiquaver triplets. Again mainly in 2-parts, there are passages in which the LH plays quaver chords or octaves against the triplets. The most reflective work on the CD is the next piece, sonata in F# minor by Soler, R85. The typical Spanish melodic augmented twice appears at the start of the piece, which contains rhythmic variety and semiquaver passages including both arpeggiated and conjunct movement, sometimes dissolving to just one “voice”. To round of this CD we hear the joyful rhythms of the Zapateado in Mateo Albeniz’ sonata in D in 6/8.
One criticism is that at 45 minutes the CD is decidedly short by today’s standards- several pieces do not include repeats- but here one gets top quality playing from a specialist in this neglected repertoire. In particular the added ornamentation is an object lesson to those who would like to develop an authentic approach to this subject. However, as an introduction to the contemporaries and successors of Scarlatti and Soler this CD fills a noticeable gap most admirably; it is to be hoped that Señora Morales makes further recordings of these composers, who can bear comparison with their better- known peers, perhaps on a copy of an Iberian instrument, although the harpsichord played here certainly has the appropriate Mediterranean attack and rapid decay so necessary to both the teeming invention and wit as well as the contrasts of light and shade in many of these pieces. She has edited and published some of the pieces on this CD for the series Tecla Aragonesa under the auspices of Institución Fernando el Católico, and hopefully will be able to bring more treasures to print for us to be able to share.
For further information on this CD, and to order, either contact Caskabel directly by e-mail (as far as I am aware there is no UK distributor) or myself. I shall be delighted to obtain and send a copy within the UK.
Instruments from the Russell Collection – played by John Kitchen
Delphian Records Ltd www.delphianrecords.co.uk £12.99 DCD34001
The Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments is one of the most important collections of its kind in the world. From the original Russell bequest of 19 instruments it has continually grown to over 50 instruments and is housed at St Cecilia’s Hall near the centre of Edinburgh, where opening is fairly restricted but the instruments are generally accessible to visitors. St Cecilia’s Hall is closed for refurbishment until 31st July 2003.
From such an extensive collection the CD can only provide a limited representative offering, presented in chronological order from a 1586 Italian Polygonal Virginal to an 1810 English Grand Piano, including a clavichord, spinet, chamber organ and a range of harpsichords, notably the much copied 1769 Taskin double, allegedly the most famous harpsichord in the world. In all, nine instruments are heard out of the total currently playable of 24. For more details of the Russell Collection visit www.music.ed.ac.uk/russell/
In terms of repertoire, John Kitchen plays some pieces from 16th-early 17th century, including the Capriccio cromatico by Merula which vividly demonstrates the chromatic effects of quarter comma meantone, widely used at the time but chromatic passages have a very striking sound from the unevenly spaced semitones, giving each key a distinctive sound. After the first two instruments there is a chronological jump to the 18th century with works from many of the great names of the time and some lesser known ones including Maurice Green and Antoine Forqueray. The final piece by Clementi is played on the Loud Pianoforte of 1810. Generally the nationality of the instrument is linked to the country where the composers worked.
The CD amply displays Kitchen’s talents across the range of instruments and repertoire and makes fascinating listening for early keyboard enthusiasts. John Kitchen is a Senior Lecturer and Organist at Edinburgh University and is a member of several ensembles in addition to his work as soloist accompanist and continuo.
The Benton Fletcher Collection at Fenton House
Early Keyboard Instruments
Mimi S Waitzman
Published by National Trust Enterprises Ltd ISBN 0-7078-0353-5 £24.99
This book, with accompanying illustrative CD performed by Terence Charlston, is written to give a thorough and accessible explanation of the instruments, the collection and their collector in context. While it is accessible for the visitor to the house and collection without any specialised prior knowledge, it extends to a great level of detail to satisfy most serious students of early keyboard instruments. The end result is at least as suited for an armchair appraisal as for carrying round the house and will appeal as much to those unable to visit and hear the instruments as to visitors to the collection.
George Henry Benton-Fletcher, a contemporary of Dolmetsch and Galpin, became interested in the performance of early music on period instruments and started collecting at a time when to do so was far from fashionable. He claimed never to have spent more than £20 on an instrument. The great majority of instruments in the original collection were of English manufacture, with the inclusion of some Italian virginals. The acquisition of a Ruckers double, on loan from HM the Queen provides a tonal contrast to the English instruments. The absence of a French instrument limits a full comparison of early keyboard instruments, though the author describes the differences in some detail and the historical place of the different genres.
His interest may well have been encouraged by acquaintance with National Trust founders Octavia Hill and Sir Robert Hunter. In 1937 Benton Fletcher gave the collection and the building that housed it to the National Trust. Onset and aftermath of war necessitated several changes of location for the collection until it settled at Fenton House in Hampstead, London in 1952 where it remains, maintained by the author, mostly in playing order. A condition of the bequest required that the collection would remain available to students for study and practice, although this has to be limited given the massive growth in interest in these instruments.
The introduction provides a detailed account of how harpsichords, clavichords and pianos work with excellent diagrams of mechanisms. The main body of the book has photographs of each instrument showing the layout of keyboard, stops and pedals and other important details. Technical details include compass, current pitch, string length, gauge and pluck point. The text fully describes the features of each instrument and whatever is known of it’s history and maintenance.
The accompanying CD provides a wonderful comparison, not only between the playable instruments but also between styles of music appropriate to the period of individual instruments. Charlston’s playing shows off the potential of each instrument, with full use of all features available. The larger harpsichords are presented with numerous changes of registration demonstrating their full capabilities. While some might argue for a less complex approach, this would miss part of the point of this recording. Indeed it is not common to hear some of the features of late English harpsichords recorded. The notes specify the registrations used in each piece or movement and are helpful in identifying and comparing these. For example it is possible to compare the effect of a Venetian Swell on a 1770 Shudi and Broadwood with a Nags Head Swell on a 1777 Kirckman. Slight drawback is that the CD does not follow the sequence of the book. It helps to annotate the booklet accompanying the CD with the relevant page nos. from the book for each instrument.
The musical repertoire is too extensive to detail here but spans some little known 16th and 17th century keyboard composers, through many of the better known composers of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The selection is well matched to the instruments used.
At £24.99 for a well written and sumptuously illustrated book, including the CD which is well worth owning in its own right, the book is highly recommended.
Orderline +44 (0)1394 389950