“From the House of Master Bohm” – John O’Donnell, harpsichord – MelbaJoseph Gascho, harpsichord – self

by | Oct 12, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

“From the House of Master Bohm” [TrackList follows] – John O’Donnell, harpsichord – Melba MR301143, 79:48 ****:

Joseph Gascho, harpsichord [TrackList follows] – self [Distr. by Phoenix Classical] ****:

Georg Böhm was a German Baroque organist and composer, notable for his influence on the young J.S. Bach, who he probably tutored. Bach named Bohm as an agent for sale of his Keyboard Partitas Nos. 2 & 3.  He lived until 1733, and is best known for his organ chorales. The keyboard compass of some of them suggest that they were conceived for the harpsichord, and several are heard on this CD. Three of the suites here are very close to the style of Bach’s French Suites: the suites in C minor, E-flat major and F minor. The last one is fairly subdued in many ways. The closing track, the Overture in D Major, is the most exuberant and exciting on the disc.  The Lully influence is strong in this piece and it almost sounds like a transcription of an orchestral original. Böhm’s music comes to us mainly from manuscript copies in the collection of Bach’s family.

The harpsichord was built in New South Wales in 1995, and has a glorious tone.  All of O’Donnell’s performances are backed by meticulous research. He has performed all the keyboard works of Bach in a series of 29 recitals. He has edited choral editions amounting to some 500 motets and 40 masses and is currently with the University of Melbourne.


Praeludium g-Moll
Suite in C minor
Partita ‘Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig’
Menuett G-Dur
Suite in E flat major
Partita ‘Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten’
Suite in F minor
Suite for Harpsichord No. 11 in A minor
Ouverture in D major 


This is the first solo recording by harpsichordist Joseph Gascho, and serves to introduce his own transcriptions of works by five early composers, as well as his performances on two harpsichords: One a 2006 copy of c.1680 Italian harpsichord, and the other a William Dowd 1984 copy of Franco-Flemish harpsichord by Ruckers of 1628. Many composers in the Baroque period learned their craft in part by copying and arranging the works of other composers, and their transcriptions have creative additions and ornamentation.  That is the idea behind the transcriptions in this album.

Gascho says in his notes that while recording, part of his mind was still searching for new ways to rewrite and perform something completely different at the last minute. We wanted to make the piece better, and reports that some parts of this recording show spontaneous ideas that were never written down.

The first five tracks are the music of Santiago de Murcia, who lived until 1739 and was just 12 years younger than Domenico Scarlatti. All three movements of his Sonata (tracks 2-4) may remind one of Scarlatti, but especially the final Allegro movement. Some of these works were originally for guitar, and are full of arpeggios, which translated well to the harpsichord.

Using the keyboard suites of Buxtehude as an inspiration, Gascho created an original prelude for a two-manual harpsichord to open the Bach Suite in G Major.  At the conclusion of the suite is an original gigue that is a two-part invention in the style of Bach.  Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote a two-act opera La descente d’Orphee aux Enfers (The Descent of Orpheus into Hades).  The suite of five short movements tells some of the familiar story. The Overture portrays the happy sounds of a wedding, the Entry of the Nymphs shows them failing to revive the poisoned Eurydice, and Orpheus sings his Air d’Orphee to sooth the tormented shades. In the closing Les Fantomes, the rulers of the Underworld give Orpheus and Eurydice permission to return to the land of the living.

In researching a program of Venetian music, Gascho came across a possible story of George Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti meeting there early in the 18th century. Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni was a patron of the arts, and Gascho has him sponsoring a musical contest between the two leading composer/performers. He predicated that Ottoboni presented the two with a simple theme and asked them to improvise variations on it. So he took Handel’s famous theme for The Harmonious Blacksmith, simplified it, and intersperses the variations on that theme with extra variations in the style of Scarlatti. In the tenth and last variation—to conclude the friendly contest—Handel joins Scarlatti at the keyboard and together they perform a variation that includes the original theme but with simultaneous fast scales and Scarlatti-style hand-crossings. Fascinating!


1  DE MURCIA: Marizapalos
2 Sonata: I. Allegro
3 Sonata: II. Grabe
4 Sonata: III. Allegro
5 Menuet amoroso
6 MATTEIS: Prelude
7 Chaconne
8 BACH: Suite in G Major: Prelude
9 Suite in G Major: Allemande
10 Suite in G Major: Courante
11 Suite in G Major: Sarabande
12 Suite in G Major: Menuets
13 Suite in G Major: Gigue
14 CHARPENTIER: Ouverture
15 Sarabande
16 Entrée
17 Air d’orphée
18 Les fantômes
19 HANDEL-GASCHO: Ottoboni’s Contest

—John Sunier

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