in: Reviews

June 9, 2009

Aliénor Offers Wealth of Modern Harpsichord Music

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The question of what modern composers add to the repertoire of harpsichord music was ably demonstrated in the Fringe Concert today (June 9) by Aliénor, at the First Lutheran Church in Back Bay on June 9. Besides providing new sources for melodies, simply because of the repertoire of music since the heyday of the Baroque, harpsichords bring a percussive rhythmic potential unmatched by any other instrument. Because the harpsichord has two keyboards, two notes can be played against each other, creating continual sound. This facility is evident in Ligeti’s aptly named Continuum, which was played at this concert. As for the dissonances so redolent in modern harpsichord music, on a harpsichord, they are strangely, surprisingly satisfying, like change ringing.

“The King Shall Come,” by Ron McKean, filled with cascading chromatic runs that are so effective on a harpsichord, had a distinctive Asian melodic line. The composer’s “Primrose,” also from his Sacred Harp Dyads, had a lilting Baroque-inspired theme, sometimes almost a hymn, that dissolved into occasional other-worldly dissonance at the end of phrases.

Tawnie Olsen’s La folia, given its American premier at this concert, started with small, lightning quick, dissonant chords and pauses, becoming increasingly complex with a Baroque melodic line that exploded in a rhythmic bell-like dissonance, dissolved into quiet, paused, then ending as it began. It was a highlight of the concert.

Paul Whetstone’s very bell-like central melody in Bulgarian Dance Fantasy ended with an appropriate stomp! from harpsichordist Randall Love. It was not originally in the score, he explained later, but the composer thought it was a good idea. “Very rachantitsa,” he added. Absolutely.

John Pruett on the violin and Elanie Funaro on the harpsichord ended the concert with superb playing, especially from the violin, in Auspicious Cranes, by Graham Lynch, and Fandango, by Asako Hirabayashi.

Lest the audience forget the sound of Baroque harpsichord music, the concert offered Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Folia (to complement Olson’s premier piece) and J.N.P. Royer’s “l’Amiable” from Pièces de clavecin, Ier livre.

Several harpsichordists contributed to this concert: Katelyn Clark, Joyce Lindorff, Randall Love, and Funaro. So the concert provided delightful sounds from different hands.

The first disappointment of the concert was that only the first movement, “A Gigge,” of the premier performance of Four Toys for Harpsichord, by Stefan Thomas, was played, although the program promised the other three.

The second? Not being able to stay to attend the second concert, promising Sonatina II by Hirabayashi.

Aliénor is offering two more concerts during the Boston Early Music Festival, on Wednesday, June 10, at 1 p.m., and at 3 p.m., at First Lutheran Church.

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