"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
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
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