Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for three harpsichords, BWV1064 [17:30]
Concerto for four harpsichords, BWV1065, transcription of Concerto for Four Violins, RV580, Op.3 No.10 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) [9:49]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto for four harpsichords, transcription by Thurston Dart (1921-1971) of the Concerto for two violins and cello by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) [9:58]
George MALCOLM (1917-1997)
Variations on a theme by Mozart for four harpsichords [8:43]
Eileen Joyce, George Malcolm, Thurston Dart, Denis Vaughan - except BWV1064 (harpsichords)
Pro Arte Orchestra/Boris Ord
rec. June 1956, London
These HMV sessions date to June 1956 and I’m sure the most unusual feature for many will be the appearance, as harpsichordist, of Eileen Joyce. She was still a highly popular concert artist at the time so these detours to a repertoire not much associated with her are all the more striking – and all the more diverting as a result. She was teamed with George Malcolm, Thurston Dart and, for the Vivaldi-Dart realisation, Denis Vaughan, who is responsible for the continuo playing in BWV1064. The Pro Arte Orchestra is directed by Boris Ord.
Inevitably the orchestral playing will sound a little lush, but listening through the prism of current diktat in performance style is a largely pointless procedure. Better by far to admire what are, in any case, finely articulated performances from the soloists, loyally supported by Ord and his forces. In BWV1064 Ord does try to lighten the string weight, in any case, though the rhythm is a tad jog-trot form time to time. But that, ironically, serves only to highlight the sparkling clarity of the soloists’ performance. This is most audible in the slow movement where the glint and glitter of the treble sonorities carry easily across nearly sixty years. The exchanges in the Allegro finale are equally dextrous and full of verve.
Denis Vaughan joins the trio for BWV1065, the Vivaldi-Bach transcription, and his extra sonority doesn’t result in any beefiness in the soloists’ sound. On the contrary, the four players retain their own aural independence and manage to vest the music with vitality, drama and vitality. It was Thurston Dart who transcribed Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins and cello, RV565, and here Ord gets some nice, teaky string tone from the Pro Arte, especially just before the fugato. The single most recognisable movement from this concerto is the slow movement which Dart has transcribed sensitively – there’s a fine sense of colour and soloistic interplay. Finally there is a jolly, witty and occasionally boisterous series of variations from George Malcolm – whose dates of birth on the track listing are somewhat wide of the mark – on a Mozartian theme, again for four harpsichordists, but this time without orchestra.
It so happens that Heritage (HTGCD247) has recently released a disc containing BWV1064 and 1065, but adding solo Bach works played by George Malcolm. I’ve not had access to it for comparative purposes but I think you will be well satisfied by this excellent Forgotten Records LP transfer which takes directly the contents of HMV CLP1120. This means inevitably that the playing time is short.
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Bach keyboard concertos