20th-century Harpsichord Concertos

MICHAEL NYMAN (b.1944): Concerto for Amplified Harpsichord and Strings, NED ROREM (b.1923): Concertino da Camera, WALTER LEIGH (1905-1942): Concertino for Harpsichord and Strings, VIKTOR KALABIS (1923-2006): Harpsichord Concerto.

Catalogue Number: 07V068

Label: Cedille

Reference: CDR 90000 188

Format: CD

Price: $16.98

Description: This exceptionally well-chosen program makes it perfectly clear that the harpsichord is an ideal contemporary concertante solo instrument. With all due respect to the other composers, the highlight is Kalabis' superb Concerto, which contains not only harpsichord writing of the utmost originality and expertise (not surprisingly, as it was written for Kalabis' wife and tireless advocate, the great harpsichordist Zuzana Ružičková, but also musical content of the highest quality; dramatic, eloquent and of as great emotional power as one would expect of any concerto for a more established instrument. The music is tonal, in a slightly extended sense; the form of the work is a traditional three-movement fast-slow-fast structure. The first movement is dynamic and motoric, and rather combative in mood. The central andante begins in uneasy calm, but soon develops a very dark, sombre and troubled mood indeed. Driving rhythms return in the finale, interrupted by a lengthy slow section of stark tragedy; the fast final section sounds like a relentless pursuit, and not a playful one. The harpsichord tries to enter into dialogue with a solo violin, but the work ends in unresolved tension. Nyman's electrifying concerto is also an intense experience, but of a different kind. The work has a truculent, confrontational quality - not a novelty for Nyman, who seldom, if ever, does 'comfortable'. Alhough broadly conforming to minimalist principles, the suddenness of chord changes and abrupt jump cuts and unexpectedly omitted beats that suggest edits (remember that Nyman has been an experimental film artist for years) remove any suggestion of the 'hypnotic' style of minimalism in favor of something darker and more pathologically obsessive. The first movement has a driven, desperate mood that for many will recall 'Bravura in the face of grief' from The Draughtsman's Contract, which prominently featured the harpsichord, while the second and fourth movements have more than a little in common with the pitch-dark, jittery frenetic quality of parts of the ZOO soundtrack. The central movement is an elaboration of Nyman's Tango for Tim, a harpsichord solo written in memory of Tim Souster, the immensely innovative and original electroacoustic composer, shamefully neglected on recordings (10J128 and an ancient Nimbus record from the LP era, which we can still obtain for you on CD, and nothing else). This slow, lamenting tango-esque movement is interrupted by a furious central section before resuming its original rhythm. The fifth movement is an extended toccata-cadenza punctuated by stabbing chords - probably the most relentlessly aggressive thing ever written for harpsichord - and the last section reprises the fast material from earlier in the work. Leigh's Concertino is slight, but hugely appealing; an exquisite neo-classical miniature, elegant in form and clear in texture. The first movement includes an extended cadenza like a neo-Baroque toccata, the second is a nostalgic aria with a wistful, very English theme, and the last is a sprightly quasi-gigue. The Rorem is an early work, written when the composer was 22 and forgotten until 1993. The three-movement, 17-minute piece is charming and fluent, with a busy, virtuosic solo part, in the composer’s customary slightly astringent tonal vocabulary. Jory Vinikour (harpsichord), Chicago Philharmonic;  Scott Speck.


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