There are two observations
to make straightaway about this fine
CD. Firstly, it is extremely specialized
and secondly, that should put absolutely
no-one off from buying it.
It goes without saying
that I need say nothing about the reputation
of Christopher Hogwood. However I am
going to say it anyway: Since 1967 he
has been one of the major players in
the presentation of baroque and early
classical music. His name is a byword
for excellence of playing and quality
of supporting scholarship.
The raison d’être
of the CD is interesting to ponder.
It is the intention to encourage the
use of the clavichord. So often this
instrument has been presented ‘as the
instrument of last resort rather than
first choice’. However, based on written
evidence, it is possible to prove that
to Handel, Haydn and the young Beethoven,
the clavichord was in fact the ‘normal’
keyboard for home practise. The harpsichord
and the forte-piano were only resorted
to when there was a need for volume,
such as at a recital.
There are two further
objectives of this recording, firstly
to bring forward repertoire that is
little known, whether in its original
form or in some arrangement. And secondly
to remind present-day audiences that
many keyboard works were not really
for public consumption: they were for
the player himself and perhaps his pupils.
The instruments are
important on this disc. There are distinct
schools of thought when it comes to
deciding to play on period instruments
or replicas. Some enthusiasts will not
consider a recording if it is not performed
on an original instrument. Some will
accept a reproduction instrument and
others will just about tolerate a ‘modern’
opts for a mixed approach. None of the
instruments used is contemporary with
Sebastian Bach. The first clavichord
was built by Johann Jacob Bodechtal
in Nuremberg around 1790. The second
is a replica, built in 1979 by Adlam
Burnett. It is based on an original
instrument from 1807 by Georg Friedrich
Schmahl. And the final clavichord used
is once again an original instrument
from 1776 by Johann Albrecht Hass.
The programme notes
are written by Christopher Hogwood himself
and are a model for all such enterprises.
They deliver a detailed discussion of
the works presented. A further essay
by Derek Adlam explains the background
to the clavichord and the place it had
in JSB’s music-making. One of the key
facts to emerge is that we do not actually
know what ‘make’ of clavichord the master
owned. The number of contemporary instruments
that survive from the period is quite
small, and it is not possible to deduce
what may have been a popular ‘buy’ with
the composers of the day.
It may be worth noting
that a clavichord is quite different
from a harpsichord in its method of
tone production. The latter instrument
plucks the string with a quill. The
clavichord is basically a small wooden
case that is often placed on a table.
It contains a sounding board and a set
of strings, stretched from left to right
above the key levers. The keys cause
the strings to be struck by small pieces
of metal called ‘tangents.’
This is what gives
the clavichord its very special, enigmatic
and almost elusive tone.
And what of the music?
Well, there are two absolute masterpieces
– the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue
in D minor and the Partita in
A minor. The former is a work that
I have known for most of my ‘musical’
life and one of which I am very fond.
This is the first time I have heard
it played on the clavichord and I must
confess that I love it. Of course that
does not mean that it becomes my favorite
version - that remains with Ralph Kirkpatrick
on harpsichord and Angela Hewitt on
the piano. But Hogwood’s version is
a minor revelation and deserves our
The Adagio in G
is derived from a solo Violin Sonata
in C (BWV 1005). The manuscript
is not in JSB’s handwriting and Hogwood
muses as to whether it fully represents
the mind of the master. However it is
an interesting work and is complete
with a ‘stride bass’ motif that is quite
before its time!
The Fugue in G minor
is a transcription and expansion of
a movement from Sebastian’s Violin
Sonata (BWV539/2) that sits well
in this version.
Most pianists have
ploughed their way through a few pieces
from the Clavier-büchlein für
Wilhelm Friedmann Bach. I know these
two ‘menuets’ and the Allemande
from my own exertions – but it is always
nice to hear them played this well!
In fact the Allemande sent me
straight down to the piano to try it
out again. Hogwood brings a certain
nuance to this ‘easy’ work that is definitive.
The Partita on ‘O
Gott, du frommer Gott’ is a fascinating
work. Most people that know this piece
are probably aware of it in its organ
incarnation. However, like so much Bach
it shifts well to another medium. In
fact I concentrated more on Hogwood’s
playing of this piece than I have ever
devoted to the playing of the organ
original. The clavichord reveals subtleties
that are not always obvious when played
on a large four-manual organ in a cathedral
with massive reverberation!
The Partita in A
minor was originally for solo violin
and was transcribed by Lars Ulrick Mortensen.
This work is fantastic. There is something
timeless about these five movements
that seem to defy the clock. It is a
long work – nearly half an hour but
it is one of those mysterious pieces
(like some Messiaen) that seem to be
over in a trice but also last for ever!
All in all this is
a great CD. I recommend it to all who
like Bach and who especially love his
keyboard music. Do not be put off by
the cerebral nature of the programme.
There is much here that will entrance
listeners who are not ‘well acquainted’
with the clavier repertoire of the master.
And it will come as
a revelation that such a diminutive
keyboard instrument as the clavichord
can express such power, emotion and