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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 (1974-75) [28:07]
Michael NYMAN (b. 1944)
Concerto for Amplified Harpsichord and Strings (1994-95) [21:00]
Jory Vinikour (harpsichord)
Chicago Philharmonic/Scott Speck
rec. 2016/18, Wentz Hall, Naperville; Feinberg Theater, Spertus Institute, Chicago; Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago
CEDILLE CDR90000188 [75:42]

This label is well-known for its excellence, but its latest disc is something else; superb from beginning to end. It features four harpsichord concertos and is performed by Jory Vinikour. He and Scott Speck, who directs the incisive and alert Chicago Philharmonic, deal pungently and yet sensitively with Walter Leigh’s evergreen Concertino. Lining up 6-2-2-1 for this work, and the later Kalabis Concerto, allows incisive articulation and with Vinikour’s virtuosity they take the outer movements with crisp intensity not so far removed from Trevor Pinnock’s recording. Where they differ is in the mobile athleticism of the central movement, taken at an unsentimentalized lick in this Chicago reading, minimising any lingering baroque-pastoralism.

Kalabis’ Concerto was written for his wife Zuzana Růžičková and completed in 1975. It’s a typically intense piece revealing his beautifully judged organization of texture, sometimes very spare and at other times more complex. Its mood is candidly austere, reserved in the central slow movement but revealing Martinů-like energy and rhythmic vitality in the finale. Not for nothing was Kalabis so leading a light in the Czech promotion of Martinů’s music.

Ned Rorem’s 1946 Concertino da Camera is heard here in its world premiere recording. In fact, it’s pretty much the first performance of this youthful work, written when Rorem was 22. A busily lyric Gallicism courses throughout, pert and witty with a first movement cadenza in similar vein, tinged with jazz. Rorem writes some luscious lines for the winds in the slow movement and there’s playful vitality in the finale where the cornet steps out into the limelight. Written for a septet of accompanying instruments this is a vitalising charmer of a piece; no wonder the composer was moved to hear the piece for the first time in this performance, as related in the booklet notes.

Finally, there’s Michael Nyman’s rollicking Concerto for Amplified Harpsichord and Strings, restless and virtuosic but full of time-phases, ripe melodic beauty, tango insinuations and counter-melodies of distinction. It includes the large-scale toccata cadenza he was encouraged to write by the work’s first performer Elisabeth Chojnacka. The balance between amplified solo instrument and ensemble is bang on perfect.

Well, I needn’t mention the very full notes by the soloist or the attractive layout of the booklet but cut straight to the chase; this is a cracking disc.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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