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Great Harpsichordists: Wanda Landowska
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Fantasia in C minor BWV919 [1.31]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonata in D major L418 [5.35]
Sonata in D minor L423 [2.09]
Jacques Champion de CHAMBONNIÈRES (1602-1672)

Sarabande in D minor [2.09]
Jean-Phillipe RAMEAU (1683-1764)

La Dauphine [3.24]
Francois COUPERIN (1668-1733)

Les barricades mystérieuses [2.28]
L’arlequine [1.43]
William CROFT (1678-1727)

Ground in C minor (attributed Henry PURCELL) [2.39]

The Nightingale [2.01]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Air and Doubles from Suite No.5 in E major The Harmonious Blacksmith [4.22]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Rondo in D major K485 [6.07]
Rondo alla Turca from Sonata in A major K331 Turkish March [2.20]
Minuet in D major K355 [2.04]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

Concerto No.1 in D major [transcribed Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)] [8.52]
Michael OGINSKI (1765-1833)

Polonaise in A minor (transcribed Wanda LANDOWSKA) [5.21]
Polonaise in G major (transcribed Wanda LANDOWSKA) [2.22]
Jacob le POLONAIS (c 1550)

Gagliarda (transcribed Wanda LANDOWSKA) [2.35]
Wanda LANDOWSKA (1879-1959)

Bourée d’Auvergne [2.56]
Diomedes CATO

Chorea Polonica (transcribed Wanda LANDOWSKA) [2.16]
Jean-Phillipe RAMEAU (1683-1764)

Air Grave pour deux polonaise from Les Indes Galantes [3.03]
Francois COUPERIN (1668-1733)

Air dans le gout polonaise [1.52]
Three Polish Dances of the Seventeenth Century

No.1 Polonaise Courante [0.54]
No.2 Anonymous [1.41]
No.3 Anonymous [1.36]
Wanda Landowska (harpsichord)
Recorded in 1946 and 1951
NAXOS 8.111055 [77.39]

This is a cannily selected disc. Many Landowska reissues concentrate, as did Biddulph’s, on the earlier recordings, the late acoustic and early electrics. That disc collated recordings made between 1923 and 1930. Another Landowska disc from them, also the transfer work of Mark Obert-Thorn, coupled the Goldberg Variations traversal with a Menuhin performance with her from 1944 of a Bach sonata. Other companies have ventured into her Bach recordings of the 1930s, some like RCA forwards from the end of the War into the 1950s.

But here we have two "discrete" (hate the word but let’s use it) album sets, one from 1946, the Treasury of Harpsichord Music album, and the later 1951 Dances of Ancient Poland set (originally called Landowska plays for Paderewski). With playing of such powerful individuality and with a two manual Pleyel of such gargantuan sonority Landowska is always liable to offend timorous souls. She never claimed to be an unswerving historically informed performer, going on record in fact to state as much. That should be enough to see her in proper context though she seems to have emerged more "scathed" than, say, violinists and cellists in critical discussion. Why this should be so I can’t quite say, since many a fiddler’s a-historical approach is seen properly through the prism of history and not judged by prevailing orthodoxies, though it must in the end centre on weight and sonority and the use of pedalling.

If we leave this to one side the results here are of impressive stature and considerable emotive weight. She had the power of dramatic projection rooted in a splendid technique and she had the musical probity to present these works shorn of didacticism but enlightened by her Beecham-like knowledge of the smallest corners of the repertoire.

So the Scarlatti in D major has an immediately arresting theatrical impact allied to a certain refined spirit and the Chambonnières in particular has a wonderfully moving gravity. I suspect only the flintiest of hearts could fail to respond to the feathery registrations of Couperin’s Les barricades mysterieuses with its etched bass line, invincible rightness of rhythm, rubato and linearity. The ritards and lightness of registration of the Croft, for so long ascribed to Purcell, are equally memorable, as are the defiant fortissimi by which she sculpts drama and power.

She thrives on contrasts – dynamic and motivic - and is a consummate and unselfconscious master. Try for example the majestic nobility of the Vivaldi-Bach, with the rolled chords of its central movement and the eloquent command of its mood and trajectory. True, Landowska was often somewhat wilfully free with decorations but they were all in the spirit of devotion.

The Polish segment shows us a wonderfully conceived Chopin Mazurka – once heard never forgotten – and an array of rhythmically incisive and irresistible pieces all of which reflect her Polish birth and the ostensible object of homage to Paderewski.

No qualms then in a recommendation. The transfers have utilised fine sounding and very quiet, responsive LPs. One of the pieces from the Treasury collection, Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat has been omitted because of timing limitations but is slotted for reissue in the next Landowska release from Naxos. Just as they issue this I see that Testament have issued an almost identical selection. I don’t have access to it for purposes of transfer comparison.

Jonathan Woolf



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