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Wanda Landowska:
Treasury of Harpsichord Music and Dances of Ancient Poland
Treasury of Harpsichord Music: Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750) Fantasia in C minor, BWV 919; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 – 1757) Sonata in D major, L. 418; Sonata in D minor, L. 423; Jacques Champion de CHAMBONNIÈRES (ca 1601 – ca 1672) Sarabande in D minor; Jean Philippe RAMEAU (1683 – 1764) La Dauphine; François COUPERIN (1668 – 1733) Les barricades mystérieuses; L’arlequine; William CROFT (1678 – 1727) (attrib. Purcell) Ground in C minor; Anonymous The Nightingale; George Frederic HANDEL (1685 – 1759) Air and Doubles from Suite No. 5 in E major “The Harmonious Blacksmith”; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791) Rondo in D major, K 485; Rondo alla Turca from Sonata in A major, K 331 “Turkish March”; Minuet in D major, K 355; Antonio VIVALDI (1678 – 1741) (trans. J.S. BACH) Concerto No. 1 in D major: Allegro; Larghetto; Allegrissimo
Dances of Ancient Poland: Michael Cleophas OGIŃSKI (1765 – 1833) (trans. Landowska) Polonaise in A minor; Jacob le POLONAIS (b. ca 1550) (trans. Landowska) Gagliarda; Wanda LANDOWSKA (1879 – 1959) Bourée d’Auvergne; Diomedes CATO (ca 1560 – ca 1618) Chorea Polonica; Michael Cleophas OGIŃSKI Polonaise in G major; Jean Philippe RAMEAU Air grave pour deux polonaise from “Les Indes Galantes”; François COUPERIN Air dans le gout polonaise; Three Polish Dances of the 17th Century (trans. Landowska): No. 1 POLONAIS: Courante; No. 2 Anonymous; No. 3 Anonymous; Wanda LANDOWSKA The Hop (Wedding Folk Song); Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810 – 1849) Mazurka No. 34 in C major, Op. 56, No. 2
Wanda Landowska (harpsichord)
rec. Lotus Club, New York City, various dates 1946 (Treasury of Harpsichord Music) and in Lakeville, Connecticut, 12– 27 May 1951. ADD
NAXOS 8.111055 [77:39]

The Treasury of Harpsichord Music was originally recorded on 78s and issued both separately and in an album and in 1952 on LP. Dances of Ancient Poland was released in 1951 under the title Landowska Plays for Paderewski and under the current name in 1965. Due to limitations in playing time, Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat from the Treasury album was omitted from the present issue but will appear on a later Naxos release.
 
Wanda Landowska was a legend during her lifetime and has remained so, first and foremost as the one who reintroduced the harpsichord in modern times. Listened to with ears attuned to the more authentic style of playing - the one that scholars have taught us to appreciate during the last half-century - she seems decidedly old-fashioned ... but thrilling! Hers is a much grander style and her big sonorous instrument is a kind of harpsichord equivalent to a cathedral organ as compared to an organ harmonium. Booming bass and powerful, almost ferocious, mid-register were the order of the day and at the end of pieces – or sometimes phrases – lingering notes remain in the air for several seconds. In other instances the sound can be very tender and intimate; “romantic” might be the proper word. This also means that the dissonances in, for instance, Scarlatti’s D-major sonata, are more “spicy” and these make the music sound modern. Chambonnières’ Sarabande is almost ghostly – an adventurous film director might have chosen this for a soundtrack. La Dauphine wallows lustily in the water, Les barricades mystérieuses is dark and menacing while L’arlequine is all light and glitter. Croft’s C minor ground is stylishly played until just before the end where there is an almost ear-shattering outbreak. The anonymous Nightingale is sensitively played with elegant trills but it would have been lighter, more airy on an authentic instrument. Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith is a muscular one and it is played with gusto.
 
Mozart may be too mechanical, at least the D major rondo, but the Rondo alla Turca is better suited to this treatment, the harpsichord reminiscent of the tambourine-dominated Turkish percussion, reminding me that Christian Zacharias once recorded this sonata with a tambourine added in the last reprise.
 
The Vivaldi concerto, in Bach’s transcription, recalls an old favourite reference book, a now 55 years old survey of the classical record market in Sweden at the end of the 78 rpm era. This was then one of only two records available with music by Vivaldi. Times change! And to be honest, the music says more about Bach than his Italian contemporary, while the playing is more Landowska than either Bach or Vivaldi. However it’s all great fun, especially the last movement, and she plays superbly.
 
The Dances of Ancient Poland are fascinating, variously powerful, using the full scope of the instrument, sounding like a full orchestra and then more restrained. Landowska’s own Bourée d’Auvergne is forceful with an ominous drone behind long stretches of the music. In the end we hear a snippet of one of the songs that Canteloube also used for his Auvergne settings. Ogiński’s G major polonaise is also worth mentioning. It’s a jolly piece with some elegant syncopations giving it a tinge of ragtime. The lively and colourful The Hop should not be overlooked and finally there’s Chopin’s Mazurka in C major, played as you’ve never heard it before. I wonder what Chopin would have thought.
 
If I sound sceptical ... in a way I am. When it comes to the historical material the Landowska approach is often far from what we today regard as historically correct. In Landowska’s days no one questioned her style. She was fully convinced that this was the real thing – and conviction is what permeates her playing through both these recitals; conviction and enjoyment. And isn’t that what music-making to a high degree is about? Throwing every thought about historical correctness over-board? Listening to this disc can be a life-enhancing experience. Technically the playing is without reproach and the its reproduction is lifelike, considering the age. Wilful the playing may be, but utterly stimulating.
 
Göran Forsling

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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