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Lyrichord Early Music Series

Bach on harpsichord, lautenwerk and clavichord; Haydn with harpsichord; baroque guitar in Spain & Bohemia; England's John Bull

A mind-blowing selection of early music CDs received from Lyrichord USA has drawn attention to this enterprising New York based independent label, which is not content to recycle canonic favourites.

Fernando Valenti's accounts of Bach's Toccatas are remastered from 1952 originals; they are played on a massive instrument (details not given) which belies their provenance. There is vitality and commitment in the playing, but the main interest remaining now is historical. [LEMS-8062]

Two CDs with Bach on lautenwerk (lute-harpsichord), which are strung with gut strings, are of considerable interest. JSB owned several of these instruments and those recorded here were built by Anden Houben, who gives a full acount of their construction. The Leopard/Shawn duo tour with one single keyboard instrument and the other double, making for easier realisation of the organ trio sonatas and others, including modern works by Reger, Langlais and Distler. The sound is rich and full, but the performances are, to my ears, compromised by a rhythmic rigidity which soon palls.

No reservations about Richard Troeger's pioneering recordings of J S Bach on clavichord. This is a revelatory ongoing series which establishes the suitability of that quiet instrument for playing and listening to most of JSB's solo keyboard music. This release (Vol. 4) is particularly ambitious, comprising the Art of Fugue, the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue and some violin works in transcription [LEMS-8048].

Others to follow will include the WTC Books 1 & 2 and the French and English Suites (Parts 2 and 4 of the Clavierubung will be performed on harpsichord). Troeger's recording of the Partitas has been reviewed previously [LEMS 8038].*

Troeger, a lifelong clavichordist and President of the Boston Clavichord Society, is a supreme advocate for the instrument and his playing is of great tonal beauty and rhythmic subtlety. Do read his interview in Clavichord International, 1999 and an article from the British Clavichord Society's Newsletter - "- - listen to this and see that in the hands of a great musician this instrument is a very much more than adequate vehicle for great music - - Troeger proves how much can be gained, rather than lost, in transferring large-scale works to an apparently small-scale instrument."

Haydn Trios are given controversial accounts with harpsichord (MusicWeb didn't like them). The Queen's Chamber Trio takes its cue from its co-existence with the up-coming piano during the period around 1800. Their belief is that Haydn's keyboard music is stylistically interchangeable between harpsichord and piano, and that it blends better with stringed instruments than either early or modern pianos, "with a sparkle absent in piano sonority" (Elaine Comparone). [LEMS-8061]

Jerry Willard has a delightful selection of music for his baroque guitar by Gaspar Sanz, Santiago de Murcia, Johann Anton Logy and Ludovico Roncalli, composers better known to specialists, played with engaging flair and recorded with immediacy. [LEMS-8065]

Kathryn Cok's thoroughly researched disc of John Bull reminds us that he was one of the most innovative of early 17 C virginalists, stretching a conservative genre with harmonically rich and virtuosic pieces, a master of variation whose Walsingham runs to all of 17 minutes. [LEMS-8060]

Peter Grahame Woolf

* PGW's Review of the Partitas on Music Web Oct 2000:
With modern recording, the clavichord sounds well on CD, provided you keep the volume well down. A recent release, greatly to be welcomed, is the first recording on clavichord of J S Bach's Six Partitas, a formidable undertaking, despatched with great conviction by Richard Troeger of Boston on a well filled double CD from Lyrichord. Troeger's Haas instrument (modelled on those of Silbermann) has a beautiful tone, and combines clarity for disentangling part writing with the incisiveness of the harpsichord, and a surprisingly wide dynamic range, without resort to registrations.
Recommended enthusiastically as an antidote to the recent proliferation of Bach performances and recordings on modern piano, often with dubious interpretative concepts. Do try it (Bach Six Partitas Lyrichord [LEMS 8038, 72+70 mins]