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Harpsichord through the Ages
George Malcolm (harpsichord)
rec. 1960 and earlier. ADD.  Download or stream only.

Some of this duplicates The World of George Malcolm (Decca Eloquence 4825181), which Jonathan Woolf thought captivating – review. It’s one of Decca Eloquence’s reissues of Malcolm’s recordings, which I reviewed as a group in 2017. I enjoyed that and I’ve enjoyed the different selection on Beulah.

George Malcolm’s Goff harpsichord was state of the art in its day; it’s no longer so, sounding especially over-large for the earlier music, but that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of both the Beulah and the Eloquence. The Beulah can be yours for 7.99 – choose Qobuz for lossless quality – the Eloquence costs around the same on CD but, totally illogically, almost 12 as a lossless download.

For me the account of Bach’s Italian Concerto is the highlight of the Eloquence, but the arrangement of The Flight of the Bumble Bee and the two final items, Bach goes to Town and Malcolm’s own Bach before the Mast are the most enjoyable pieces; these are also included on the Beulah. I don’t think that Malcolm ever recorded Percy Grainger’s Handel in the Strand but Bach before the Mast is music in that vein. I guarantee that these last two pieces will have you tapping your feet. In these pieces, especially in the stunning arrangement and performance of The Flight of the Bumble Bee, it's perfectly legitimate to unleash the pyrotechnics of the Goff harpsichord.  I didn't even object to the extra coucou which Malcolm adds to the end of the Daquin - another bit of legitimate fun.

The Beulah release opens with eight pieces from the Elizabethan Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Though intended for domestic performance on the more intimate virginals, the music sounds well on the harpsichord – but remember that this was the age before we became obsessed with period performance.  Bear in mind my opening comments about Malcolm’s harpsichord, and these performances are still enjoyable. They account for 22 minutes of the Beulah programme, thus making it distinct from the Decca 1963 recordings marked 1 in the track listing (below), which are also available on the Eloquence reissue. General music lovers will enjoy them in their own right, though purists should steer especially well clear of this early music.

First released by Cantate in 1964, by the time that they were reissued, with music by Purcell, on Oryx 3C301 at budget price in 1971 the performances were criticised for over-flamboyant registration, over-dramatic crescendos, and up-close recording. All that is even more to the point now, yet I regard them as comparable with Beecham’s recordings of the Haydn ‘London’ symphonies – based on editions which he knew full well were corrupt and outdated and performed with techniques that would have been alien to Haydn, yet still highly enjoyable as long as you also have more authentic recordings.

There’s little difference in quality between these Beulah transfers from LP and those on Eloquence from the master tapes. As long as you bear in mind my comments on authenticity, or the lack thereof, this is an attractive reissue.

Brian Wilson

Fitzwilliam Virginal Book:
John BULL (1562/3-1628)
In Nomine [6:07]
Fantasia [4:36]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1628)
Pavana [2:20]
William BYRD (1540-1623)
Coranto [0:59]
Pavana [1:51]
Galiarda [1:29]
Giles FARNABY (1563-1640)
A Toye [1:24]
Loth to depart [3:12]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto, BWV9711 [12:19]
Toccata in D, BWV9121 [10:38]
French Suite No.5, BWV8161 [16:15]
Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772)
Le Coucou 1 [2:05]
Pietro Domenico PARADIES (1707-1791)
Toccata in A1 [1:31]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Flight of the Bumble Bee (arr. George Malcolm)1 [1:10]
Alec TEMPLETON (1909-1963)
Bach goes to Town 1 [2:36]
George MALCOLM (1917-1997)
Bach before the Mast (The Sailors’ Hornpipe in the Style of Bach)1 [3:08]
George Malcolm (harpsichord)
rec. Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, March 1960. ADD1



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