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‘Dark Harpsichord Music’
[Prelude – evening] [01:03]
Jean Henri D’ANGLEBERT (1628-1691)

Prelude in g minor [02:02]
Armand-Louis COUPERIN (1725-1789)

Allemande in G [09:35]
Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764)

Air in g minor (from 12 Suites, 1714) [02:08]
Louis COUPERIN (c1626-1661)

Prelude in F [03:07]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)

Sonata in F (W 62,6): andante [03:29]
Jean Henri D’ANGLEBERT

Prelude in d minor [04:33]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Partita for violin solo in d minor (BWV 1004) : chaconne, transposed to a minor [12:39]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)

Prelude in A (from L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin) [02:56]
Louis ANDRIESSEN (b 1939)

Overture to Orpheus (1981-82) [12:56]
Louis COUPERIN

Passacaille in g minor [05:12]
[Postlude – towards night] [01:44]
Colin Booth, harpsichord
Recorded in July 2003 at Westbury sub Mendip, England DDD
SOUNDBOARD SBCD203 [62:16]

 

"In the medieval Great Hall at Dartington, England, late on a summer's evening in 1995, I played a short concert entitled Dark Harpsichord Music. The hall was lit as usual at the start of the programme, and as each piece was played the lights were dimmed, so that by the end, only a few flickering candles played on the ancient stonework. Birds giving their last song of the day beyond the gothic windows added to the atmosphere inside the hall. This CD aims to bring the spirit of that concert to a larger audience".

With these sentences Colin Booth explains the reasoning behind this recording. One can understand that a musician wants to record a concert he obviously enjoyed himself a lot. But a concert and a CD recording are two different things. And what works well in a live event doesn't necessarily have the same impact in the living room where most purchasers of this disc will be listening.

It starts with birdsong and ends with it. That may contribute to the atmosphere at a concert in a beautiful ancient building, but I assume most listeners will skip those tracks.

There seems to be a contradiction in the approach to 'early music' by Colin Booth. On the one hand he believes that "we stand a better chance of being moved by Early Music" if performers are aware of the conventions under which the music was composed. On the other hand he admits that his programme is 'unhistorical' in that no 18th century musician would ever offer his audience only introspective and rather sombre pieces. He justifies his decision to do just that be referring to the listening habits of a 'post-Romantic' audience, which enjoys an "in-depth exploration of mood, often without alleviation, and which may well not end on a cheerful note at all."

It is this "introspective mood" he wants to create by playing pieces from the 17th and 18th century reflecting such a 'mood' and adding a piece by the contemporary Dutch composer Louis Andriessen. "Apart from the juxtaposition of such diverse material, the only liberty taken, has been to add a few notes here and there to fill silences between pieces". These are referred to as 'link' in the track list.

The programme may be 'unhistorical' in the way it has been put together, the arrangement of the pieces is very convincing. The 'preludes' - most of them of the category of the typically French 'préludes non mesurés' - are leading to pieces in the same key. Pieces in different keys are 'linked' by short improvisations. There are no silences between the pieces – there is a continuous flow of music for about an hour.

As Colin Booth says, most pieces are introspective - which not necessarily means 'sombre', by the way - and are played at a quiet pace.

One of the highlights is Armand-Louis Couperin's Allemande in G, which is rather old-fashioned. It is a beautiful work with a refrain which Colin Booth plays slightly differently every time it returns.

A piece of large proportions and great emotional depth is the Chaconne from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita for violin solo in d minor (BWV 1004), transcribed for harpsichord and transposed to a minor. Colin Booth's performance is captivating, but I would have liked a little more articulation now and then.

Since I am not familiar with contemporary music it is difficult to assess Andriessen's 'Overture to Orpheus', which is a specimen of minimalism. Colin Booth writes: "This piece reflects the underlying theme of the programme as a whole: the idea of exploring at length, and in a limited range of tonalities, a mood of subtly varied introspection".

It will not change my basic (negative) attitude towards contemporary music, but I have heard 20th century harpsichord works which were far worse. This is a piece I can live with, although I will skip it most of the time, when playing this disc.

As sceptical as I am about the concept of this disc, there is a lot to enjoy, and Colin Booth is an excellent harpsichordist, who is able to capture the character of the pieces on the programme well.

Johan van Veen

 



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