Wanda Landowska – Le Temple de la Musique Ancienne = Works of J.S. BACH – Wanda Landowska, Pleyel harpsichord – Paradizo (CD+CD-ROM)

by | May 9, 2014 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Wanda Landowska – Le Temple de la Musique Ancienne = Works of J.S. BACH: Partita in B-flat; 3 Little Preludes, Italian Concerto, English Suite in a; Toccata in D; Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue – Wanda Landowska, Pleyel harpsichord – Paradizo PA0009 (2 discs: 1 CD + 1 DVD-ROM with documents & photos of her center near Paris from 1927-1940) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

The concert hall and gardens established in 1927 by the  famed Polish keyboardist Wanda Landowska in St.-Leu-la-Forêt (20 kilometers from Paris) were a monument of rare importance to early music and its performance practice. Landowska designed, commissioned and baptized the Temple de la Musique Ancienne in collaboration with a French architect, Jean-Charles Moreux. She was very precise in her ideas, including incorporating radiant natural light, and the acoustic design and volume of the interiors. The building is the only one dedicated to concert performances and pedagogical activities to have been so designed by a musician of international renown.

Landowska also had constructed the Wanda Landowska School nearby within a few seasons, which became the most important center for early music in the world. She had as many as 14 music students at a time. Each year, from May thru July, programs of great originality attracted audiences of the music world. She had entire programs devoted to the Sonatas of Scarlatti, the Suites of Rameau, Couperin or Handel.

Harpsichordist and early music specialist Skip Sempé put this unusual package together. His essays in the note booklet are on the conception, design, architecture and history of the center, and on the accompanying DVD-ROM has a commentary on each of the over 150 images of Landowska herself, the center, and the architect’s plans and unpublished letters from the archives of the architect.  There are views of the center, of some of the masterclasses and events, shots of Landowska’s extensive early instrument collection, and letters from Landowska.  Some of the Landowska portraits are especially lovely. The packaging is elegant.

In 1935 and ’36 Landowska made a series of recordings of the works of Bach for the Concert Hall label. These remarkable recordings were remastered in 2010 and are on the first CD here. The fidelity is quite good, I think better than the later RCA Victor recordings of the 1940s and ‘50s, and although the Pleyel harpsichord was not nearly a copy of the authentic 17th century originals, it doesn’t sound so bad here.

The Nazis began to pay attention to the valuable property and the Polish-Jewish ancestry of Landowska by 1939. She had thought she was safe because she was a French citizen and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, but some of her friends urged her to leave her gorgeous home, which she did in 1940 (with only two suitcases), and the Nazis confiscated and pillaged it. 


1. Praeludium (Partita in B-flat BWV 825)
2. Allemande
3. Corrente
4. Sarabande
5. Menuet I
6. Menuet II
7. Menuet I da capo
8. Gigue
9. Prelude in D (BWV 936- 3 Little Preludes)
10. Prelude in E (BWV 937)
11. Prelude in E minor (BWV 938)
12. Allegro (Italian Concerto BWV 971)
13. Andante
14. Presto
15. Prelude (English Suite in A minor BWV 807)
16. Allemande
17. Courante
18. Sarabande
19. Bourree I
20. Bourree II
21. Bourree I da capo
22. Gigue
23. Toccata in D (BWV 912)
24. Fantasia (Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue – BWV 903)
25. Fugue

—John Sunier

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