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Re: unrecorded keyboard
----- Original Message -----
From: "Juozas Rimas" <
I think Jouzas wrote to Bradley in particular about his opinion on which
Bach keyboard compositions work better on harpsichord than on piano.
To which I suspect our harpsichord playing early music expert list member
will respond "All of them." :)
though with the qualification that there are some great Bach on piano
recordings out there.
for the past year I've been doing a fair amount of listening and layman's
research into harpsichord music, with some help from the harpsichord mailing
list, of Bach and the composers before his time and that education has
taught me that many people that play Bach on the piano are too restrained,
and lack the fire and life that some harpsichord players, perhaps due to the
peculiar capabilities and limitations of their instruments, put into their
Every heard of the phrase "sewing machine Bach?" Well, the more I listen to
harpsichord music, the more pianists begin to sound like sewing machines.
Their touch can lack subtly and variation. Their use of volume dynamics
uninspired, their "profundity" a poise. So much they do seems too planned
out a not very complicated or deep way. Just play the notes with some
crescendo and diminuendo, maybe at a fast tempo, and we're home. Wrong!
One thing that makes Gould such an unusual Bach player was his great
vitality and absolute commitment to the music. I've not found a whole lot
of that in other piano players who perform Bach. Probably my favorite Bach
on piano player, next to Gould, is Angela Hewitt. She makes great use of
the piano's coloristic ability without, in my opinion, sacrificing the
contrapuntal interest. Her Bach "sounds" unlike any other I've heard.
Perahia is very good, but I wish he would play with more variety. I hear
great things about Ricther's WTC that he recorded in Salzburg. Martha
Argerich has a great Second English Suite. Lipatti has an absolutely
phenomenal First Partita. Tureck's Partitas and WTC are also very fine,
though a bit restrained for my taste, which formed by lots of early
exposure to early Gould. The more I listen to Rubsam, the better he gets,
though in a cerebral, less visceral way. I'm not likely, while listening to
Rubsam, to yell out-loud to the car next to me stuck in traffic along LA's
infamous interstate 405, "Hot damn that's amazing." Something I am likely
to do while listening to Gould. I'm more likely to tap my chin and say
Some harpsichord discs I can recommend without hesitation are: just about
anything by Edward Parmentier, but esp the Partita set that he recorded on a
mellow though extremly colorful harpsichord made by Keith Hill. Bob van
Asperen's WTC, available in the UK are budget price is another great fine.
Kenneth Gilbert's WTC, expensive, is another great performance on a mellow
instrument, and instrument I beleive he also uses on his partitas set. That
instrument, originally a Couchet from the 1600's and later altered may be
the most easy on the ears harpsichord I've ever heard. I know other people
who don't otherwise like harpsichord music to be really impressed, and
rightly so, by that recording.
Van Asperen, by the way, has recorded the Bach inventions and sinfonias for
the Aeolius label, but the record seems to be not available in the UK or the
States. more on that recording at
I imagine that recording will become the benchmark inventions and sinfonias
on harpsichord. Hard to go wrong with Van Asperen, who has a couple of disc
on Naxos playing the Bach violin and harpsichord sonatas with Lucy van Dael,
recordings which I recommend.
Robert Hill, brother of harpsichord maker Keith Hill, has a couple of first
rate Art of Fugue discs. The Hanssler Art of Fugue, played on one of his
brother's harpsichords, is up there with my favorite recordings of that
work (along with Rosen's on piano and the Keller String Quarter's disc.)
A few days ago I mentioned the now out of print trio sonata by Fisk and
Fuller on guitar and harpsichord. nothing limited about that recording, one
of the richest I've ever heard.
Listen to Van Asperen's wonderfully blooming bass of the 1728 Hamburg Zell
on the prelude in c major to book one of the WTC and you'll be thinking to
yourself "wow, you know what, sometimes the harpsichord is more colorful
than the piano." Also, with the harpsichord, you get a greater variety of
tone from the different strings, from say the bass to the treble end. At
least to me, there a greater difference in sound coming from the separate
strings, which is something you have to train yourself to listen for, a new
element to the music that's not as present on the piano recordings of Bach's
music, something extra you gain from switching from piano to harpsichord.
Gould, with his incredible intellect, touch and control, is able to bring
out the separate voices in the music, voices that more naturally appear on
the harpsichord, voices that pianists, perhaps not use to or trained to,
have trouble separating on their, in some ways, more homogenous sounding
We can talk more about this offlist if you'd like. I'm sure you can tell
I'm really excited by the harpsichord adventure I've been on lately, and I
can say from experience that it's essential to get exceptional recordings in
order to enter the world of the harpsichord. A bad instrument, a bad
recording, a bad performance, any one of those to a new listener can give
the false impression that harpsichord music is either hard to listen to or
at best boring. Trust me, it isn't.
And get this, the more I've learned about harpsichord music in general (and
it really does pay to listen to music before Bach's time) and Bach's
keyboard music in particular, the more I've come to be impressed by Gould's