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Harpsichord Concerts for Lunch


Paul Cienniwa, music director at First Church Boston, has assembled quite a number of harpsichordists for Thursday luncheon half-hour recitals in the sanctuary from 12:15 to 12:45. The concerts go through May 26, with some exceptions (like the Lenten recitals at the same time at Emmanuel Church). Bring your lunch to eat quietly.

In full disclosure: These recitals are played on this reviewer’s splendid Flemish double harpsichord, made in 1980 by David Jacques Way. The two Latin inscriptions read “By soliciting joy, I forget about life,” and “The Gods have deemed virtue to be attained by sweat.”

I had to miss the first two October recitals, by Peter Sykes and Lee Ridgway, but caught Andrus Madsen’s on Nov. 4, 2010 and Cinniewa’s own on Nov. 11. The two programs were sufficiently contrasting that I will discuss them together. The rest will be in batches.

Madsen is a Pachelbel specialist and also an improviser. The audience was treated to three improvised preludes at various times in the program, in the styles of Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) and Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), both basically 17th-century composers. Madsen chose a modified meantone temperament to accommodate Pachelbel when he chose to be harmonically adventurous.

The first piece up was Froberger’s Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Maestà di Ferdinando IV Ré de Romani. Ferdinando IV only had nineteen years on this earth, as Madsen explained. Froberger’s Lament is full of sadness, with a scalar passage climbing to what would have been the very highest note on Froberger’s harpsichord.

Pachelbel and Froberger knew each other, so although Suite in E Minor is of dubious origin, it certainly sounds like Froberger. Highlights include the Allemande, played on the buff stop, and the full chorus of the Gigue. The Fantaisie in E Minor, which really is by Froberger, ends on a Picardy third that sounded splendid in meantone.

Pachelbel’s Prelude (improvised) and Fugue in A minor was the final work on the program. The prelude had carefully controlled over-legato, in which the harpsichord really excels. The fugue had a very détaché Pachelbel theme and ended on a delicious Picardy third.

Cienniwa’s recital had only one Baroque piece in it, the harpsichord solo from the Bach sixth violin sonata, BWV 1019. The other two works were Frank Warren’s Three Inventions, Op. 6 (1979) and a world premiere, Larry Thomas Bell’s Partita No. 2, Op. 102. Both composers were present. Warren’s inventions are contrasting, the first craggy and second arpeggiated and scalar, played on two contrasting eight foot registers; the third has a similar registration. All three exhibit surprising endings.

Bell’s Partita, six dances in all, is characterized by contrast and harmonic sense. Color pervades all, both in terms of registration and judicious use of chords. Bell has a tendency to go to the upper regions of the keyboard at the ends of several movements. Particularly beautiful was the dotted rhythms of the Allemande and the two minuets, the one humorous and the other languorous.

Future recitalists through December include Akiko Enoki Sato, Nickolai Sheikov, Elaine Comparone, and David Schulenberg. Concerts in 2011 will present Michelle Graveline, Charles Sherman, Sylvia Barry, Christa Rakich, Bálint Karosi, Jean Rife, Leon Schelhase, and Jory Vinikour. Michael Sponseller/Cienniwa is scheduled for April 21, then Michael Beattie, Linda Skernick, Sponseller, James Nicolson, and Frances Conover Fitch.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Thank you, Larry, for writing this introduction to this series. I would like to include part of an email I sent to Mark Kroll, whom I mistakenly did not invite to the series:

    “Dear Mark,

    “I am writing you after a conversation I had with Lee Eiseman in which he wondered why you weren’t on the harpsichord recital series at First Church.

    “When I sent out the invitation to area players, I simply put together a short list from my own memory and then asked each and every player to let me know if someone was missing.

    “I hope that you don’t feel slighted by me or First Church. I made the invitation to the series as open and embracing as possible, and I truly wanted to include everyone in my invitation. [Note: the invitation purposefully did not include students.] This series is about hearing as many voices as possible, and it is not meant to be judgmental or exclusive. As you know, a rising tide raises all boats, and the diversity of players is meant to give the public a sense of the diversity of approaches to the instrument.

    “Again, I’m terribly sorry about the oversight, and I hope to include you in any future invitation.”

    Comment by Paul Cienniwa — November 12, 2010 at 3:22 pm

  2. Thanks for the generous mea culpa, Paul. Mark had apparently not even known about this series before he received your email. I imagine he was tickled that he would have been included as a nod to “diversity.”

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — November 13, 2010 at 9:42 am

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