Notes and Editorial Reviews
Harpsichord Suites: in c,
Sonata in d,
Partita in g,
BWV 1004: Chaconne
Dom André Laberge (hpd)
ANALEKTA 29767 (65:00)
Dom André Laberge is a Benedictine monk who boasts an impressive set of credentials: organ studies with Bernard Lagacé in
Montreal and harpsichord studies in Europe with Kenneth Gilbert and Gustav Leonhardt—hardly what you would call a dilettante. He was recently elevated to abbot of the monastery of Sainte-Beno??t-du-Lac in Quebec, about as far as you can go in monastic ranks, but obviously he takes his harpsichord playing quite seriously. There are several previous CDs to his credit on the Atma and Analekta labels, for the most part recordings of the harpsichord music of Bach, Handel, and Couperin. It’s somehow reassuring to see a hooded, bespectacled monk seated at the harpsichord (booklet cover), although one wonders how that staunchest of Protestants, Sebastian Bach, might have reacted to a Roman Catholic monk playing his music. I suspect Old Bach would have been generally pleased with the performances, although he probably played his own music with more vigor than what you’ll hear on this CD.
Laberge is a meticulous, skillful keyboardist who knows how to point and shape a phrase; nothing mechanical about the playing here. His tempos tend to be on the slow side—the prevalent feeling in his keyboard work is one of relaxation and introspection. The opening Prelude to the C-Minor Suite, for example, fails to evoke the same level of excitement as Lionel Party does on an old Delos LP. The E-Minor Suite, originally intended for the lute or else a somewhat mysterious hybrid called lautenwerk (Bach’s own term), has been recorded numerous times by lutenists and guitarists, but relatively seldom by harpsichordists. Dom Laberge’s stately rendition is as fine as any I’ve heard on harpsichord. The performances of the final two works, the first an arrangement by Bach’s pupil Johann Gottfried Müthel of the Violin Sonata in A Minor, the second a new arrangement of the famous Chaconne from the G-Minor Violin Partita, are marked by similar qualities of order, intelligence, and restraint. Only in the Chaconne does Dom Laberge break away from this mold somewhat; there are moments of real passion (gasp!), only to disappear with the next quiet iteration of the chaconne theme.
It’s frustrating that the energy level on this CD only occasionally rises above the minimum threshold, as this is one of the most glorious, natural-sounding harpsichord recordings I’ve ever encountered. The instrument is a two-manual by William Dowd after Mietke: full and well balanced, but inherently no better-sounding than dozens I’ve heard. What sets this CD apart is the wonderful, resonant acoustic that surrounds the instrument; I can almost picture the room in which it was recorded, perhaps some anteroom in the monastery with high stone walls and a vaulted ceiling. Yet despite the lush acoustic, every strand, every note of Bach’s complex counterpoint is discernible, proving once and for all that it’s not necessary to shove the microphone into the soundboard in order to produce a viable recording. I urge anyone contemplating making a harpsichord recording to audition this disc; it is a textbook example of how it should be done but seldom is.
Considering the overly cautious playing and the fact that all four works are arrangements—not originally intended for the harpsichord by Bach—I hesitate giving this CD an unqualified endorsement. Perhaps next time Dom Laberge will consider recording the French Suites or the Partitas—and to borrow a phrase from rock-and-roll, kicking out the jambs a little. I’ll bet he has it in him.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
Works on This Recording
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