Time Flies—Elaine Funaro, harpsichord—Centaur CRC 3783—72:25—****:
The harpsichord is the product of historical invention that came to its apex during the baroque period. It quickly diminished out of favor in the light of progress, with the invention of the louder and more dynamic pianoforte. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that musicians looked back at this instrument, mostly in an attempt to better understand the sound world of the high baroque masters such as Handel, Scarlatti, and Bach. Today the baroque harpsichord sound is easily found in hundreds of recordings of baroque repertoire, thanks to the historically informed performance movement. But the revival of this instrument in our modern consciousness hasn’t been pigeonholed to only historical music.
In Time Flies,harpsichordist Elaine Funaro focuses on contemporary pieces. Composers include Thomas Donahue, Mark Janello, Adam Rothenberg, Sviatolslav Krutykov, Daniel Basford, Ivan Bozicevic, Stephen Yates, and Ivar Lunde, Jr. among others. Some of the pieces are quite fresh, having been published as late as 2018. So when I say contemporary, you might be thinking Ligeti or Samuel Adler; in this case, the pieces are quite new and from names you likely are not familiar. Funaro was a new name to me, as well, but I took some comfort in learning about her and her study of baroque repertoire.<
A recording chock full of new music from different composers of course makes the review of a disc somewhat problematic. There’s little doubt you want to know as much about the literature as you can, in addition to the performance and other typical matters expected in such a review.
Let me start with my favorite work on the disc, the Prelude and Counterpointby Mark Janello. Janello is a music academic, focusing on music theory at the Peabody Institute. The connection to a baroque, if not Bachian prelude and fugue, speaks to my heart as a fan of baroque repertoire. As a harpsichordist and organist himself, it shouldn’t be too surprising to appreciate the format and harmonic language of this pair. Its success, I feel, is tied up in its nearly equal fusion of contemporary themes cast in the sound world of the German baroque. This is a piece I’ll enjoy on repeated listens.
I also enjoyed the trio of pieces on tracks 13-15, from Basford, Ban, and Bozicevic. They almost seem as if they could coexist together, as they do here on this disc; to learn that they are separate pieces from different pens was a revelation. Stephen Yates’ Capricciois worth a mention too for being modeled after something that could have emerged from the baroque period, perhaps from a drug-influenced bout by, say, Domenico Scarlatti? Like the Janello set, this piece clearly is contemporary, but the flavor and style borrows from the traditional repertoire for the instrument, even quoting, if I dare say, a theme that sounds quite Bachian.
Funaro is a very capable soloist. Her instrument is a historical copy and the performances were captured in a good acoustic space with an appropriate amount of distance, which I think speaks to a contemporary expectation for the sound of an appropriately sized concert hall. My expectations were exceeded as I re-listened to this disc; every piece didn’t become an instant favorite, but there was a common thread among the pieces that I appreciated and can only summarize as belonging to Funaro’s good taste and style.
For fans of the harpsichord, this disc is a cabinet of curiosities. As someone who appreciates the sound of a harpsichord, and who is familiar with a lot of historical literature from the baroque, this album did not alienate me at all. Clearly the composers assembled here like the instrument, and can appreciate the harpsichord’s place in musical history. While some of the pieces quote more directly the old repertoire, none of the pieces fully ignore the instrument’s strengths. The harmonic language between the pieces varies, but the pieces are more approachable, I felt, because they adopted tonal foundations. Just be forewarned, the cabinet contains insects, and the Insectum Communisby Ivar Lunde, Jr., is a fitting and fun close to the recital.