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Handel: Clavier Works / Siegbert Rampe

Release Date: 01/27/2009 
Label:  Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm) Gold Catalog #: 3411537   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Siegbert Rampe
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Suites: No. 3 in d, HWV 428; No. 2 in F, HWV 427; No. 7 in g, HWV 432. Chaconnes in G: HWV 430/Anh; HWV 435. Sonata for a Harpsichord with Double Keys, HWV 579. Prelude in F, HWV 567. Capriccio in g, HWV 483 Read more Siegbert Rampe (hpd) MDG 341 1537 (78:46)

There are several attractive aspects about this album, and one that is controversial. Let’s start with the latter.

Siegbert Rampe contends that some of Handel’s keyboard works were written with a 16' harpsichord in mind. His evidence is strictly circumstantial, but he builds a good case for it: the presence of 16' instruments in Hamburg, while the composer was writing much of his keyboard output; Handel moving to London in 1712, then buying a 16' harpsichord of Hamburg make—or at least, this is what Rampe deduces, based on the region-specific proportions of its lid, drawn from a surviving draft of a painting meant for its underside; the fact that 16' harpsichords were owned in Saxony, not just by the nobility, but also by wealthy musicians, such as J. S. Bach; their value to musicians based on varied colors and compass; the reasonably large sum of money Handel had saved before leaving Hamburg for Italy; a couple of important early keyboard works that show the composer writing for a range of more than four octaves, suggesting the resonant bass of the larger instrument.

To this end, Rampe decided to play a 16' harpsichord constructed in 2004, based on a 1728 Hamburg model by Christian Zell. It has two manuals (2x8', 1x4'), with the suboctave strings employing a bridge of their own on a different soundboard. This avoids the dampening effect produced when the 16' and 8' strings share bridges. I question whether this kind of instrument, requiring extra resources and time for its creation, would have been the sort even a moderately flush young musician like Handel could have purchased, especially when he was saving up for his Italian trip. But if you are enthusiastic about the sound of the 16' harpsichord and desire to reveal it in all its glory to your audience, a better instrument would be difficult to imagine.

Never one to miss on dramatic timing, Rampe begins his program with the Suite No. 3 in D Minor. Its assertive Prelude has a majestic sonority that is well suited to the instrument’s deeper register, and given the rhythmic freedom that the performer rightly adopts, almost sounds as though played on an organ. The Allemande’s sweetness provides excellent contrast, while the Air con variazioni supplies a duet between the bass and middle range. The series of five Doubles and the Suite’s final Presto furnish a convincing demonstration of the instrument’s power and clarity throughout its range.

Another work suitable to display Rampe’s theory is the first version of the Chaconne in G Major, HWV 435. The only existing source copy separates solo from tutti, harpsichord from orchestra. Rampe considers that it might have also been played on a single, large harpsichord. That’s pushing it, perhaps, but in the end, the ear finds its own justification, and the massive, strummed chords of the opening theme have great presence that is made only more impressive by the use of higher registers on the second manual. Much the same can be said of the Prelude in F, the only London-composed work included on the album. The lowest notes of the 16' span get a workout; and Handel’s mean tone temperament (with pure thirds) creates some intriguing dissonances between the work’s two voices.

It would be impossible to fill a CD with sufficient Handel keyboard works whose compass suggests a 16' instrument, however, so other keyboard music by him, of more limited compass, fills out the release. The most significant of these is the Suite No. 7 in G Minor, with its imposing Ouverture and evocative Sarabande; the sunny, Italianate Sonata in G Major, composed for a small, two-manual keyboard, and the Chaconne in G Major, HWV 430. Described appropriately enough by the performer as “the most popular and at the same time least well known of the works presented here,” the latter is the original version of what was to become the spuriously titled “Harmonious Blacksmith,” the Air and Variations in E Major.

These performances frankly couldn’t be bettered. Rampe gives free reign to a theatricality wholly appropriate in these works, steeped in the Italian Baroque. The same Prelude that serves notice of what to expect from his instrument demonstrates his fingerwork and phrasing, while the two Adagios from the Suite No. 2 in F Major are excellent examples of his ability to incorporate figurative turns in the breadth of Handel’s melodies. There’s plenty of boldness in the final Passacaille of the Suite No. 7, and delicate simplicity in the same work’s Andante. One can easily imagine these pieces, or similar ones, being used by Handel during his famous keyboard contest with Domenico Scarlatti at Cardinal Ottoboni’s Roman palace. They provide a perfect musical setting for the kind of playing that reveals great technique, and this harpsichordist is certainly up to the job.

Rampe provides good liner notes, while MDG supplies excellent engineering: a small-hall acoustic with reasonably close miking that manages to dodge most of the mechanical noise associated with the instrument. For clarity, resonance, and even treatment throughout the harpsichord’s range, this is one of the best sounding discs of its kind in some time.

Short take: if you fancy the harpsichord at all, get this disc.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Harpsichord in D minor, HWV 428 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Siegbert Rampe (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1720; London, England 
Suite for Harpsichord in E major, HWV 430: no 5, Chaconne by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Siegbert Rampe (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1720; London, England 
Chaconne and Variations (21) for Harpsichord in G major, HWV 435: Chaconne by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Siegbert Rampe (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1733; London, England 
Capriccio in G minor, HWV 483 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Siegbert Rampe (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: London, England 
Suite for Harpsichord in G minor, HWV 432 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Siegbert Rampe (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1720; London, England 

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