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20th Century Harpsichord Concertos
Walter LEIGH (1905-1942)
Concertino for Harpsichord and Strings (1934) [8:56]
Ned ROREM (b. 1923)
Concertino da Camera (1946) [17:14]
Viktor KALABIS (1923-2006)
Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings, Op. 42 (1975) [28:07]
Michael NYMAN (b. 1944)
Concerto for Amplified Harpsichord and Strings (1995) [21:00]
Jory Vinikour (harpsichord), Chicago Philharmonic / Scott Speck
rec. 2015-2018, Naperville & Chicago, IL, USA
CEDILLE CDR90000188 [74:57]

“20th Century Harpsichord Concertos” indeed but omitting the conventionally expected Poulenc or Martinu. This disc cuts a strong and specialised swathe through the last century drawing on composers from the United Kingdom, Czechoslovakia (as was) and the United States. The Cedille engineers have arrived at a warm and up-close microphone array held over solo and orchestra. The sound throughout is toasty-close just like an open fire after a long and chilly walk.

British composer Walter Leigh’s three movement Concertino is flooded with cheery energy and latent companionable heat made patent. It’s, in total, as long as a concert overture and if you wish to hear it in company with other Leigh then try Lyrita, Kent Sinfonia or Barn Cottage. Then comes early Ned Rorem. His work is said in this case to be neo-classical but it’s satisfyingly ‘fleshy’ across its three chirpy, dreamy and chipper movements. I recall how aggressively dry is the sound of another neo-classical work, Barber’s Capricorn (named after Barber's House on Croton Lake, Mt Kosco, NY). There’s little or none of that here and the middle Molto moderato positively melts like fudge in a Daliesque dream. The final Presto skips agreeably - almost a jig.

Viktor Kalabis’s Harpsichord Concerto has been recorded before by Kalabis’s wife Zuzana Ruzickova who has also recorded the concertos by Poulenc and Martinu. This is recorded, as are the other works, in spectacular sound. The three movement concerto moves through some very strange landscapes and the solo instrument often takes on a crystalline harp-like accent and a Martinu-style introversion … and extroversion. It’s the biggest of the concertos here both in sheer minute coverage but also in its delving exploration of mood. It ends in a finale that lets loose a blitz of keyboard activity but its final pages suggest a terminus in chastening tragedy.

The most recent work here is Michael Nyman’s Concerto for Amplified Harpsichord and Strings. It is presented in six tracks. These are exultant, breathless in acceleration, suggestive of Tippett (trs. 11 and 13) escaped from some hypnotically lapping Mediterranean cove (tr. 12), acid-etched in martellato attack (tr. 14) and finally in homage to Martinu and indeed to one of Nyman’s own finest works from four years earlier, Where the Bee Dances for saxophone and orchestra.

This is a fine disc and its forward balance and the spatial heat it generates is a tribute to playing, hall-choice (various halls were chosen in the Chicago catchment) and engineering. The excellent and wide-ranging notes complement what is a very strong disc that serves to transform the harpsichord landscape.

Rob Barnett



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