Occasionally, one comes across individuals with a mission. This is the case
with J. Martin Stafford. He has managed to save several rare, yet essential
recordings from the abyss of forgetting, notably this recording by Thurston
A clavichordist and harpsichordist, most of Dart's solo recordings were of
English music. He recorded five LPs of keyboard music by the great English
composers, such as Byrd, Bull, Gibbons and others, on harpsichord and chamber
organ. He also recorded a selection of organ music by English composers.
Yet, one must bear in mind that this was all done in the 1950s, a period
when early music was far more confidential than it is today.
In addition to these great recordings of English music, Dart also recorded
Bach's French Suites, a selection of works by Froberger, and some pieces
by Purcell and other English composers, on the clavichord. This recording
is certainly unique, not only for its historical interest, but also for the
The clavichord is a small, rectangular box-like instrument, with a very simple
mechanism, that was probably the domestic instrument par excellence in 17th
and 18th century Germany, as well as in other countries. Its simple construction
and small size made it easy to have at home, and even to carry around. It
is known that Bach owned clavichords, and one can imagine that, when playing
with his family, this instrument might have been used often.
But this recording is not only valuable for the above reasons. It is also
one of the most moving recordings of the French suites available. The clavichord
gives a musician the unique possibility of playing vibrato (known as
bebung) on a keyboard instrument. This means that a performer has
a much vaster palette of effects on the clavichord than on most other keyboard
instruments. In spite of its limitations - it is a very soft instrument,
its tone is limited because of its short strings, and its resonance is also
limited because of its size - the clavichord is highly expressive.
Dart's reading of the French suites is quite a masterpiece. With judicious
choices of tempo, he makes each movement sing. The slow movements take on
a different emotion on the clavichord than on harpsichord - and Dart makes
full use of bebung in these movements. The faster movements are lively
and energetic, and Dart instils far more sensitivity into these than most
harpsichordists. Some of the movements in these suites are quite playful,
and Dart retains that feeling, giving them the utmost liberty and joy.
The additional pieces on this CD, by Purcell and Croft, are also excellent.
The brief Purcell pieces take on a totally new character when played on the
clavichord, and, as for the French suites, Dart's performance of them is
There are some minor drawbacks to this recording, though. First of all, given
that this was recorded in 1961, Dart chose to play none of the repeats in
the French suites, so they could all fit on one LP. This is not a major default,
but the suites are much shorter than in most recordings, and they leave this
listener wanting to hear more. The only other minor problem is the fact that
each suite is only one track, as opposed to being one track for each movement.
In any case, J. Martin Stafford has done an excellent job remastering these
recordings - the sound is as clean as possible. He deserves kudos for saving
these great recordings from oblivion.
An excellent performance, and a very good recording of a unique historical
document. Beyond its interest as a historical recording, and the use of the
clavichord, this is one of the finest recordings of Bach's French Suites
available. (And the price is right too!) Every Bach lover should own this