C.P.E. BACH: Suite in E Minor H.66; HUGO DISTLER: Variations on Scheidt’s “Ei du feiner Reiter” from Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings; J.S. BACH: Two-Harpsichord Concerto BWV1061a – Anne Galowich & Jos van Immerseel, harpsichords – Turtle

by | Mar 22, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

C.P.E. BACH: Suite in E Minor H.66; HUGO DISTLER: Variations on Scheidt’s “Ei du feiner Reiter” from Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings op. 14; J.S. BACH: Two-Harpsichord Concerto BWV1061a – Anne Galowich, harpsichord/ Jos van Immerseel, second harpsichord & director of Anima Eterna (in Distler work) – Turtle Records Multichannel SACDTRSA0024, 43:49 ****:

Ms. Galowich hails from Luxembourg, teaches at the Conservatory there, and concertizes with Immerseel in works for two harpsichords.  Turtle seems to have come up with the photographic harpsichordal alternative to many recent albums by sexy young female violinists.  The booklet inside as well as the physical disc and card stock packaging has more fetching shots of the Galowich. Who would have thought harpsichord music could be made so tastefully sexy?

OK, the music. Galowich selected the works on the recording to create a balanced program with connections between them.  The influence of J. S. Bach is strong; of course C.P.E. was his second son. All three works are centered geographically around Berlin. Hugo Distler was a church organist  – the most important church musician in the late 1930s, but his music was classified by the Nazis as “degenerate art.”  Galowich presents only the final variation movements of his Harpsichord Concerto because she feels the music stands alone without the earlier movements, and is “truly imbued with genius.” The 14-member Anima Eterna ensemble joins the harpsichordist in this work, while the opening C.P.E. work is for a solo harpsichord and the closing J.S. Bach work is performed as Bach originally wrote it – for two keyboards without orchestral accompaniment as we usually hear it.

A major portion of the liner notes are about the harpsichords themselves. Galowich points out that the instruments which performers such as Distler (and Landowska by extension) performed on at that time were nothing like most of today’s historically-accurate harpsichords, and she wonders what Distler would think to hear his music played on a correct reconstruction such as she and Immerseel play on this recording. The white harpsichord played by Galowich is a reconstruction based on three instruments built in the early 18th century by Berlin instrument-maker Michael Mietke, from whom J.S. Bach ordered a harpsichord. There were a multitude of different harpsichord designs during its heyday of three centuries, but Galowich feels this one can simultaneously handle the challenges of all three works on the disc. Immerseel’s harpsichord is black, and a copy of one made in Lyons in 1716, in the French style. From the photo showing the mic placement we see that the recording engineer kept a sensible distance from the instrument, so there is no impression of a 50-foot-wide harpsichord on the recording or an exaggeration of noises in the action.

The C.P.E. Bach suite is in five dance-form movements with melody and accompaniment, clearly in the more modern Classical style than the music of his father. The Distler Variations blend the original, medieval-sounding theme of Scheidt with much more modern instrumental writing of the 20th century in a fascinating mix.  And the Bach Double Harpsichord Concerto provides an exciting meeting of two keyboard virtuosi, reproduced with ultimate clarity from their locations at your left and right frontal speakers. Their musical give-and-take hits me as effective and exciting (though over 250 years old) as the two-piano improvisation I just auditioned last night between Chick Corea and Gonzalo Rubalcalba.

– John Sunier

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