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20th Century Harpsichord Music
Jean-Jacques GRUNENWALD (1928-1982)
Suite de danses pour clavecin ou piano [10.14]
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
Rain Dreaming for harpsichord [8.15]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Hungarian Rock [7.28]
Aleksandra GARBAL (b.1970)
Concerto for harpsichord and piano [21.40]
Jürg BAUR (1918-2010)
Divertimento für Cembalo und Schlagzeug [9.57]
Jan Wincenty HAWEL (b.1936)
Partita per clavicembalo o pianoforte [11.41]
Aleksandra Garbal (harpsichord)
Katarzyna Kwiatkowska (piano)
Aleksandra Rogowska (percussion)
rec. Akademia Muzyczna im. Karola Szymanowskiego w Katowicach, (live Polskie Radio Katowice recordings), 1997/98.

We are surely past the days of thinking of the harpsichord as the – antique - sound of “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof” of Beecham’s quip, and the interest of modern composers in the possibilities of the instrument is surely most welcome. Christopher D. Lewis (on Naxos) and Ralph Kirkpatrick are among several interpreters who have made valuable recordings. The new disc, from Aleksandra Garbal, is an interesting, but not perhaps essential, addition to the available material.

The principal reason for the eclipse of the harpsichord as a concert instrument was its lack of heft and weight, compared with the percussive strength of the pianoforte, especially as concert halls grew larger, but this limitation becomes irrelevant in the recording studio, where differences in sonic carry can be balanced out.

The present recital is not one of gentle, harp-like tinkling. In many pieces, there is a clamorous edge to the music. The composers are a mixture of the famous and the less well-known. Grunenwald was a name rather unfamiliar to me: best known as an organist at St. Sulpice, following Marcel Dupré, he principally composed works for organ and film, providing scores for more than 20 French films between the 1940s and 1960s. His suite of four dances has significant attractions, though one could readily imagine – and perhaps prefer it as - a piece for organ. It is pleasant enough, but not especially memorable.

The short pieces by Takemitsu and Ligeti are interesting and characteristic, especially the Takemitsu on different forms of rain. This is miniature, but substantial, music for all that: a piece to revisit. Ligeti’s Hungarian Rock from 1978 is an energetic charmer, with strong contrasts – some parts jazz-like, some majestic. Worth hearing.

The longest work is Garbal’s own Piano and Harpsichord Concerto. The term ‘concerto’ refers rather to its 3-movement structure – quick-slow-quick – than to any accompanying orchestra (there are just the two instruments, though an orchestra may be substituted for the piano). Garbal describes the composition as “an attempt to join tradition and modernity”. By itself, that idea is not enough to justify a twenty-minute piece, but there is more to it than that in terms of technical accomplishment, use of serial elements and structures. For all its evident cleverness and points to admire, and some lovely moments, I cannot say I liked it, but others might find much more. A problem is that when both instruments play, the piano inevitably tends to dominate, so that to the listener, the harpsichord becomes accompaniment rather than equal partner.

Baur is not a familiar name to many. His works were at times conservative, though as he grew older, he increasingly experimented with twelve-tone techniques, especially as he became more interested in the works of Webern. His fascination with different instrumentation is evident in the choice made in these brief pieces for harpsichord and drum. These three pieces hold more than passing interest.

Jan Wincenty Hawel’s piece has a gritty quality – not quite as one might expect from a work for harpsichord – and serves as a useful introduction to a composer not widely known outside Poland.

Notes by Aleksandra Garbal are informative, though it would have been useful to read a little more about the lesser-known composers. These are twenty-year old recordings, taken from radio broadcasts, and sometimes that provenance is revealed in tape-hiss at the beginning of works. Sound is satisfactory, playing excellent and committed, and the harpsichord has a warm tone, though at times one is aware of the sound of the mechanism.

Overall, then, this CD is a worthwhile addition to the catalogue.

Michael Wilkinson



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