Classical Reissue Reviews

HANDEL: “When They Had Pedals, Vol. 2, The Rutkowski” – Keyboard Suites Nos. 3, 13, 11, 14, 15 & 8 – Paul Wolfe, pedal harpsichord – Lyrichord Early Music Series

A fine collection of Handel Harpsichord Suites recorded in hi-res in 1958 on a pedal harpsichord.

Published on July 1, 2013

HANDEL: “When They Had Pedals, Vol. 2, The Rutkowski” – Keyboard Suites Nos. 3, 13, 11, 14, 15 & 8 – Paul Wolfe, pedal harpsichord – Lyrichord Early Music Series

HANDEL: “When They Had Pedals, Vol. 2, The Rutkowski” – Keyboard Suites Nos. 3, 13, 11, 14, 15 & 8 [TrackList follows] – Paul Wolfe, pedal harpsichord – Lyrichord Early Music Series LEMS 8034, 45:40 & 38:45 (rec. 1958) [Distr. by City Hall Records] *****:

This wonderful collection of Handel harpsichord suites was original recorded in 1958 by Jerry Newman on 30ips stereotapes, was originally released on LPs and has been carefully remastered for these CD reissues. The harpsichord was one owned at the time by harpsichordist Paul Wolfe and built for him that year by Frank Rutkowski in Stony Creek, CT. It has two manuals and seven pedals and is nine feet long. It shows something of a transition from the “plucked piano” design of the Pleyel harpsichords used by Wanda Landowska towards the more faithful harpsichord designs of today, based on accurate musicological data of the period. It was considered a major breakthru in harpsichord building at the time. But few of today’s designs have 16-foot stops, and this one does, and it comes across beautifully in these hefty Handel suites.

I have no idea why seven pedals are required, but the sonic results on these fine recordings are definitely worth hearing, and more audiophile-oriented. Register-controlling pedals were a feature of the first half-century or so of the harpsichord-building revival. They enabled performers to change the timbres of the instrument without having to lift their hands from the keyboards, and helped listeners used to the dynamic extremes of the grand piano to overcome any innate sense that the harpsichord was a rather monotonous instrument.

These are the “big-rigs” of harpsichord design, with all sorts of couplers, stops and various sound textures possible. Wolfe studied with Landowska and also owned one of the Pleyel harpsichords she used. No pussy-footing among the plectra here! Within a few years of this recording, this style of harpsichord design and playing was replaced by a more restrained performing tradition, using historically-copied instruments from the 18th century. They replaced the leather plectra with Delrin plastic (as I’ve done on my own harpsichord) and did away with pedals, reverting to hand levers. Harpsichordists of the post-Landowska generation led the listening public “kicking and screaming” back to the 18th century.

Antique harpsichords were never quite like that on these recordings, but what fun it is, and a worthy medium for impassioned music-making.  The Suite No. 11 is the one that contains the previously-obscure Handel theme popularized by Stanley Kubrick in his film Barry Lyndon of 1975. Paul Wolfe currently lives in New Mexico.


Suite 3 No. 3 in D minor
1. Prelude 1:39
2. Fugue 2:38
3. Allemande 4:24
4 Courante 2:03
5. Air & Variations 9:19
6. Presto 5:16
Suite No. 13 in B flat minor
7. Allemande 2:06
8. Courante 1:38
9. Sarabande 3:00
10. Gigue 1:24
Suite No.11 in D minor
11. Allemande 2:59
12. Courante 1:47
13. Sarabande Variée 6:41
14. Gigue :57
Suite No. 14 in G major
1. Allemande 1:55
2. Allegro 2:29
3. Courante 3:14
4. Air 1:35
5. Minuette 2:12
6. Gavotte Variée 3:31
7. Gigue 2:37
Suite No. 15 in D minor
8. Allemande 2:29
9. Courante 2:13
10. Sarabande 2:09
11. Gigue 1:10
Suite No. 8 in F minor
12. Prelude 2:48
13. Fugue 2:47
14. Allemande 2:48
15. Courante 2:2
16. Gigue 2:18

—John Sunier

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