This new CD of Baroque harpsichord music gives an extremely pleasant and satisfying exploration of works written by Bach and Handel, as well as a good number of lesser-known contemporaries, dating from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. It is played by Terence Charlston on a reconstruction of a surviving German instrument of that period.
Some of these other composers are relatively well-known, such as Johann Pachelbel and Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow. This latter was the teacher of Handel. Most are names only – except to specialists and enthusiasts of that period: I have never heard of Christian Ritter, Tarquinio Merula or Johann Philipp Krieger.
Personally, the only works that I previously knew on this CD are the Suite which includes the famous ‘Harmonious Blacksmith’ Air and Variations by Handel and the three Bach numbers. One or two other pieces sound familiar. The remaining programme comprises a wide variety of typically Baroque forms including a toccata, preludes, fugues, a fantasia, a dance, a capriccio, a chorale, an allemande and a passacaglia. Each is typical of this rich keyboard repertoire and most will be commonplace forms to listeners acquainted with Baroque music.
The liner-notes are a model of their kind. After a considerable essay on the ‘Finding of a Repertoire for the Instrument’ in which Terence Charlston examines the potential for creating a recital of music that would include works of the two great masters of the period as well as music that they would have heard during their formative years. He makes a case for using the ‘contemporary’ Thuringian harpsichord for this programme. This is followed by a long detailed examination of the composers presented and their music. The next essay is a comprehensive study of the German harpsichord of that period and its manufacture. Finally a note about the actual instrument used in this recording: this is a single manual harpsichord made by David Evans of Henley on Thames and completed in 2010. It is a ‘close copy’ of an anonymous Thuringian or Saxon harpsichord made c.1715 and presently housed in a museum in Eisenbach in Germany. A weblink is given to Charlston’s website which gives full specification of the instrument, details of the music editions used to assemble the repertoire as well as a bibliography. There are short notes about Terence Charlston and the instrument maker.
I would strongly advise against listening to his CD end to end. For my part, I find that relentless harpsichord tone for 70 minutes is a wee bit too much. I approached this disc by first listening to the ‘Harmonious Variations’, followed the Bach pieces and then picked off works here and there, referring to the notes. There is always a danger that a fugue slips into a chorale prelude and before one knows where one is the performer is halfway into a passacaglia.
The playing on this CD is stunning. The sound is perfect: revealing every detail of the music and gradation and tone of the instrument’s character. A great introduction to the period.