Notes and Editorial Reviews
Complete Works for Harpsichord, Vol. 1:
Premier Ordre; Troisième Ordre
Rebecca Pechefsky (hpd)
QUILL 1002 (66:57)
Complete Works for Harpsichord, Vol. 2:
Second Ordre; Quatrième Ordre
Rebecca Pechefsky (hpd)
QUILL 1004 (57:22)
BACH AND HIS CIRCLE
Rebecca Pechefsky (hpd)
QUILL 1006 (67:22)
Partita in a.
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.
Fugue in F.
Suite in c.
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue,
Rebecca Pechefsky (hpd)
QUILL 1009-2 (2CDs: 116: 26)
By now you have been introduced to Rebecca Pechefsky, an enterprising young American harpsichordist who isn’t afraid to dig a little deeper for new material. It’s not often that a performer is vouchsafed a world premiere recording, in this case the music of François D’Agincour (c.1680–1758), whose name is sometimes spelled Dagincour, as he’s listed in
. Although isolated pieces have shown up on recitals by the likes of Hervé Niquet, Olivier Baumont, and Roberto Alessandrini, this is indeed the first
recording of D’Agincour’s music. As such, it earns an automatic recommendation, but the stylish playing and excellent engineering are further incentives to buy. But what about the music—do we really need a complete recording?
The music is somewhat variable, but for fans of the French Baroque, especially fans of the music of François Couperin, the acquisition of one or both volumes will be a foregone conclusion. The
is a suite of formalized dance movements (allemande, sarabande, courante, gigue) with five character pieces tacked on the end: “La Sensible,” “Les Dances provençales,” “La Caressante,” “La Sautillante,” and a menuet. The music is stately and rather austere, with a certain grim determination in the minor-mode pieces. Beginning with the
on Vol. 1, D’Agincour’s muse takes a different direction. Here are mostly character pieces in a lighter vein with catchy titles that no doubt owe their inspiration to Couperin: “L’Ingénieuse,” “La Fauvette” (a type of little yellow bird), “La Mystérieuse,” “Le Moulin à vent” (extended trills depict the flapping of the windmill vanes), “La Agréable” (the title is apt), “La Courtisane” (a cheery gavotte).
On the second disc, the
continue the trend. There are several movements dedicated to or inspired by individuals, some of whom are identifiable: “La Couperin,” “La tendre Lisette,” “La Princesse de Conty.” The dignified chaconne “La Sonning” is a further example of Couperin’s influence. Three exquisite rondeaux merit attention: “L’Harmonieuse,” “Les Tourterelles,” and “La Badine.” “La d’Houdemare,” named for a councilor of Rouen, is an aristocratic piece in the minor mode. “La Moderne” lives up to its name with wide-ranging, active figurations in both hands that are reminiscent of Scarlatti. It’s clear that Pechefsky is completely at home in this repertoire; she captures the essence of every piece perfectly with her supple, expressive playing.
A word about the harpsichord is in order. Built in 2000 by Dominic Eckersley and Peter Fisk, it is a double-manual Flemish copy tuned in
. It is a lovely, well-balanced instrument with a clear, easygoing treble register. I would point out, however, that there is a noticeable “thud” that accompanies keystrokes in the mid and upper range. This is most apparent when only one 8’ stop is drawn; when two or three registers are playing, the noise is less obvious. An unfortunate blemish on an otherwise fine instrument—too bad it wasn’t corrected for this recording project.
The natural recorded sound is another plus. As with most harpsichord recordings nowadays, the aural perspective is a bit close—we hear the instrument from the player’s vantage point, rather than from that of the audience. But not disagreeably so; there is still plenty of room acoustic to keep it real. If you can resist the temptation to crank up the volume in your own listening room, you will be rewarded with one of the better-sounding harpsichord recordings in the catalog.
Bach and His Circle
contains, in addition to BWV 903, a selection of the works of three composers associated with Bach. Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713–80), one of the Master’s last pupils, is perhaps best known for his organ music. But most of his clavier music was published during his lifetime and even then attracted somewhat of a following. Here, the Partita in A Minor begins with an imposing fantasia, possibly inspired by Bach’s own Fantasia and Fugue. Pechefsky’s performance is appropriately grand, marred only by a slightly out-of-tune 4’ register. Krebs’s fugue begins with a sprawling chromatic subject that would have given Bach a run for his money; it should come as no surprise that the pupil’s contrapuntal prowess does not equal that of the master. The following movements—allemande, courante, sarabande, bourée, minuet, and gigue, all in the minor mode—are more conventional and continue the serious demeanor of the opening two. The energetic Bourée-Pastorelle reminds me of the famous Echo from Bach’s French Overture, BWV 831, and receives a thrilling performance on full harpsichord from Pechefsky.
Johann Gottfried Walther (1684–1748) was the author of the first important music dictionary in German; his music never fails to elicit a smile from me. The organ chorale prelude
works well on the harpsichord, while his jolly, somewhat old-fashioned Fugue in F is a nice foil to the chorale prelude.
The Suite in C Minor of the peripatetic Conrad Friedrich Hurlebusch ((1691–1765) is another example of the fascination in which Germans held the French dance suite. Traces of Bach’s influence can be found in Hurlebusch’s music, but the music in this suite is largely
. Unusual chromatic harmonies and quirky rhythms abound, but these can be attributed to the composer’s unique musical personality, rather than to any general stylistic trends of the time.
The program concludes with a vigorous, well-ordered account of BWV 903 that borders on thrilling at times. The tuning problems evident in the Krebs partita have thankfully been eliminated, and the keyboard noise does not obtrude, largely because the full harpsichord is used for most of the piece. Pechefsky’s account compares favorably with some of the best recordings of the past, including those of Scott Ross, Trevor Pinnock, and Christophe Rousset, and that’s saying a lot. Note that for this CD, the harpsichord has been tuned to a’ = 415 Hz using Werckmeister III.
Now we come to the “big ticket” item—Pechefsky’s recording of
The Well Tempered Clavier,
Book 1. Perhaps it’s prudent when considering a work such as this—from the time of Robert Schumann a part of the pianist’s “daily nutrition”—to avoid turning it into a horse race.
readers, if they have any familiarity at all with the music, will have long since chosen their own favorite version. It would therefore be unwise of me to recommend any one recording as best. For starters, there are the issues of piano vs. harpsichord, equal vs. unequal tuning, etc., that will never be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.
I have listened to Rebecca Pechefsky’s
1 in one sitting several times now, and my impression is one of having participated in a strenuous but enriching journey, with the harpsichordist the ideal trail guide through this remarkable landscape. More about this later.
Of the two harpsichords, I prefer the Italian instrument, a copy of an unnamed original by Ives Beaupré, by a slight margin. The Flemish instrument still exhibits some of the keyboard noise heard on the other discs, although to a lesser extent, since the microphone-to-harpsichord distance seems to have been increased slightly. Matching of levels and overall quality between the two recording venues is very good.
On the subject of temperament, I won’t deny that there are some rough moments, for example in the F?-Major Prelude, but Bach’s open texture and fast-moving lines in this piece mitigate the problem somewhat. I’m quite used to hearing harpsichords tuned in unequal temperament—perhaps “inured” is a better word—but other listeners, particularly fans of the modern piano, may not be so forgiving. Does the choice of Werckmeister III enhance this performance of
1? The pure thirds in the C-Major, G-Major, and F-Major pieces certainly help, but I’ll leave the final decision to others.
Pechefsky’s tempos are generally on the relaxed side, with little ostentatious display. There are a few moments where her technique is allowed to shine, as in the driving C-Minor Prelude, the joyous G Major, or the scurrying B?-Major prelude. Perhaps the best indicator of her secure technique is in the fugues, where nary a note is out of place. Through tiny manipulations of articulation and rubato, she coaxes the expressive content out of the music, always deferring to Bach. Although you might quibble with a particular choice of tempo or the way a passage is phrased, for the most part it all seems inevitable and right. One of the most enjoyable recordings of the
I’ve heard in a long time—I’ll turn to Pechefsky for inspiration the next time I become frustrated trying to pound out one of Bach’s fugues.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
Works on This Recording
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