CLERAMBAULT & MARCHAND – Mahugo, harpsichord – Brilliant; “20th-Century Harpsichord Music” – C.D. Lewis – Naxos

Two fascinating solo harpsichord CDs for your collection.

LOUIS-NICHOLAS CLERAMBAULT & LOUIS MARCHAND: Complete Harpsichord Music – Yago Mahugo, harpsichord – Brilliant Classics 94790, 77:20 (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

“20th Century Harpsichord Music” Wrks of POULENC, FRANCAIX, MARTINU & DUREY – Christopher D. Lewis, harpsichord – Naxos 8.573364, 60:05 (10/9/15) ****:

Clerambault and Marchan are typical of the French harpsichord style of the first half of the 18th century. The two suites by each composer, plus the four short works are grand, stately and have lavish embellishments in perfect accord with the life of the court at Versailles at the time, led by the Sun King Louis the XIV.

Recorded in 2014 in Italy, this is the first CD to assemble all the known harpsichord works of both composers on one disc. The harpsichordist was featured on a previous Brilliant CD of the harpsichord works of Royer and played on the “CD of the Month” chosen by a Spanish magazine.

TrackList:

CLERAMBUALT: Suite in C; Suite in c minor; Prelude in G; MARCHAND: Suite in d; Suite in g; La Venitienne; Badine; Gavotte


Even though Wanda Landowska played on a heavy Playel of Paris harpsichord which was more like a piano than the type of harpsichords being built today she was a major figure in the resurrection of the instrument. Now a number of harpsichordists have returned to her type of Revival or 20th-Century harpsichords, as opposed to the historically-accurate type often built today and based on ancient instruments. Christopher D. Lewis plays, appropriately on this recording, a Pleyel harpsichord made in the 1930s.

Again, the four composers are either French or French-based (as Martinu was). Bach’s Two-Part Inventions were a stimulation for Louis Durey in his Dix Inventions. Poulenc’s Suite francaise is colorful and tuneful in a way that immediately positions it as a work of that composer. The Francaix two pieces for the harpsichord has not been recorded before, and the nine-minute Sonata for Harpsichord by Martinu reflects his intensity of expression much as his sonata for piano does. Most CDs of contemporary works for the harpsichord are rather dissonant and hard to take; not so for this excellent program.

Owning and playing an inexpensive harpsichord (Wittmeyer) I recently found out was a revival model rather than an historically-accurate one, I am beginning to think the primary problem with Landowska’s recordings was not her instrument so much as the rather primitive original recording setup used by RCA. Most of her recordings (all mono) were made in her home because she didn’t want to take her instrument to the studio. True, it was louder than most historical harpsichords, but that isn’t everything.

By the way, don’t play either of these CDs too loudly. It’s certainly more hearable than a clavichord, but these harpsichords are nothing like a grand piano in volume.

TrackList:

POULENC: Suite francaise; FRANCAIX: Deux Pieces pour clavecin; MARTINU: Deux Impromptus; Sonate pour clavecin; Deux pieces pour clavecin; DUREY: Dix Inventions

—John Sunier

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