The Harpsichord in the 18th Century of the Most Serene Republic of Venice

by | May 15, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Harpsichord in the 18th Century of the Most Serene Republic of Venice (2006-7)

Performer: Michele Barchi
Director: Federico Savio
Program: MARCELLO: Sonata IX in A Major; VIVALDI-BACH: Concerto in F Major; PIATTI: Sonata in C minor; TURRINI: Sonata in G Major, Sonata IV in G minor; GALUPPI: Sonata I in F Major; PESCETTI: Sonata 1 in C minor; GRAZIOLI: Sonata in B flat Major, Sonatas in C Major from Op. 2, Nos. 4 & 9; BERTONI: Sonata in D Major
Studio: Fugatto FUG 023 (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: Anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Italian, PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German
Extras: Presentation by M. Barchi (9 min.); Booklet in 4 languages
Length: 122 m
Rating: ****

This fine DVD with the rather unwieldy title is the first of four proposed DVDs concerning the literature for the harpsichord in 18th century Europe.  Performer Barchi also built the instruments on which he plays, and is located in Venice, so it was natural to have a Venice theme for the first DVD. The instruments are lovely, with much ornamentation as was the style of that period and place. They don’t have pedals or knee levers as were added to many harpsichords made in other countries as the instrument began to feel some competition from the newly-introduced fortepiano. However, one of the Barchi instruments copies an 18th century original which had only a single keyboard but an interesting setup which allowed increasing pressure of the fingers to bring into action another stop – giving some dynamic expression missing from the standard harpsichord. The last two sonatas are played on a small and delicate spinet instrument with the small single keyboard on the long side of the harpsichord rather than at the end.

The visual and acoustic settings for the performances could not be more appropriate and striking – large halls in Venice with walls and ceiling adorned with many lavish paintings and decorations. The camera moves slowly around the rooms and observes the performer from all angles, and it sometimes moves to the open doors to balconies over the water and shows some of the exteriors. Barchi is clearly a virtuoso on the instruments – unfazed by the rapid tempi of some of the sonata’s fast movements. His demonstration and talk in the extras warrants viewing before hearing the concert.

Most of the composers chosen for this anthology were connected in various ways in 18th century Venice. Five of them were active at St. Mark’s Cathedral, some were students of others, and two were uncle and nephew. Aside from the Vivaldi concerto, the program is entirely of harpsichord sonatas, but shows the great variety of them in this most cultured of cities.  The sound pickup is at a proper distance to minimize noise of the actions, with the bass strings near the left speaker and the treble near the right.  It may sound wider than if the listener were at the keyboard, but some of these instruments have extremely long cabinets to encompass the bass strings. This could be a bit much to experience all at one sitting – you might want to break it up into two sessions – but the DVD will surely be attractive to those with any interest at all in the harpsichord.

 – John Sunier

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