musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music for harpsichord

[I] "Miniaturen"
Ricardo Magnus, harpsichord
rec: Sept 22 - 25, 2014, Kenzingen-Bombach, St. Sebastian
Ambitus - amb 96 958 (© 2015) (59'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/S
Cover & track-list

Johan Joachim AGRELL (1701-1765): Allegro del Sgr. Agrell in e minor [20]; Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795): Solfeggio in D-Dur [22]; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Praeludium ex C (BWV 924a) [1]; Praeambulum in C (BWV 924) [1]; Praeambulum et Fughetta in C (BWV 872a) (praeambulum); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637 -1707): Suite in C (BuxWV 230) (courante); François COUPERIN (1668-1733): 1er Prélude in C [13]; 4e Prélude in f minor [13]; 5e Prélude in A [13]; Louis COUPERIN (1626?-1661): Allemande grave in F; La Piémontoise; Prélude non mesuré in C; Prélude non mesuré in F; Prélude non mesuré in G; Sarabande in F [2]; William CROFT (1678-1727): Suite in d minor (prelude); Jean-François DANDRIEU (1681-1738): 1ere Prélude in C [11]; Bernard DE BURY (1720-1785): La Tendre Agitation [18]; Giovanni Battista DRAGHI(c1640-1708): Suite in e minor (prelude) [10]; Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789): Rondeau in C [19]; Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656-1746): Clio (praeludium harpeggiato); Melpomene (chaconne); Polymnia (harpeggio) [4]; Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Aria Passagiata; Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Martius (GWV 111) (sarabande) [14]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1789): Preludio ed Allegro in g minor (HWV 574) (preludio); Suite No. 8 in G (HWV 441) (allegro) [17]; Johann Philipp KIRNBERGER (1721-1783): 8te Sammlung, 62tes Stück [21]; Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722): Partie V (praeludium) [7]; Gaspard LE ROUX (? - 1707?): Suite in F (prélude non mesuré) [9]; Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764): 11e Suite (sarabande) [12]; Monsieur de LA BARRE (?-?): Prélude [6]; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Allegro in G-Dur [20]; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Suite in G (Z 660) (prelude) [8]; Jean Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Menuet [15]; Christian RITTER (c1645-after 1717): Suite in f sharp minor (saraband) [2]; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata in d minor (K 32); Benedict SCHULTHEISS (1653 -1693): Suite in C (allemande) [5]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Fantasia No.1 in D (TWV 33,1 (allegro) [16]

Sources: [1] Johann Sebastian Bach, Clavier-Büchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, [n.d.]; [2] div. Andreas Bach Buch, [n.d.]; [3] div, Manuscrit Bauyn: Pièces de clavecin, [n.d.]; [4] Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Musicalischer Parnassus, [n.d.]; [5] Benedict Schultheiss, Muth- und Geist-ermunternde Clavierlust, erster Theil, 1679; [6] Monsieur de La Barre, M. De Parville, after 1686? / Manuscrit de Mademoiselle La Pierre, 1687 (ms); [7] Johann Kuhnau, Neuer Clavier-Übung, erster Theil, 1689; [8] Henry Purcell, A Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinnet, 1699; [9] Gaspard Le Roux, Pièces de Clavessin Avec la maniere de les Joüer, 1705; [10] Giovanni Battista Draghi, Six Select Sutes of Leßons for the Harpsichord, 1707; [11] Jean-François Dandrieu, Pièces de Clavecin courtes et faciles, 1710-1720 (Troisième Livre); [12] Johann Mattheson, Pieces de Clavecin en Deux Volumes, 1714; [13] François Couperin, L'art de toucher le clavecin, 1716; [14] Christoph Graupner, Monatliche Clavier Früchte, 1722; [15] Jean-Philippe Rameau, Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin, 1726/27; [16] Georg Philipp Telemann, Fantaisies pour le clavessin, 1732; [17] George Frideric Handel, Suites de pièces pour le clavecin, second volume, 1733; [18] Bernard de Bury, Premier Livre de Pièces de clavecin, 1737; [19] Jacques Duphly, Pièces de Clavecin, Premier Livre, 1744; [20] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Notenbuch für Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart, 1759; [21] Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Musikalisches Allerley, 1763; [22] Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, Musikalische Nebenstunden, 1787

[II] "Varietas"
Jean-Christophe Dijoux, harpsichord
rec: Feb 14 - 16, 2016, Leipzig, Zur Ratte
Genuin - GEN 16420 (© 2016) (81'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Rondo in C (Wq 56,1 / H 260) [2]; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Toccata in g minor (BWV 915); Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Jesu, du bist allzu schöne, partita in C; Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Toccata in G (BuxWV 165); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Air in g minor (HWV 467); Prelude in g minor (HWV 573); Preludio ed Allegro in g minor (HWV 574); Suite in g minor (HWV 453) (chaconne); Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764): 4. Prob-Stück in e minor [1]; 5. Prob-Stück in C [1]; 18. Prob-Stück in E [1]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Overture in G (TWV 32,13)

Sources: [1] Johann Mattheson, Grosse General-Baß-Schule: oder der exemplarischen Organisten-Probe zweite, verbesserte und vermehrte Auflage, 1731; [2] Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Clavier-Sonaten nebst einigen Rondos fürs Forte-Piano für Kenner und Liebhaber, Zweite Sammlung, 1780

The second disc to be reviewed here has a title which could equally have been given to the first disc: "Varietas" (variety). Jean-Christoph Dijoux looks for variety within the repertoire of a limited period in time and focuses on one important musical centre in Germany: Hamburg. Ricardo Magnus follows a very different path. Unter the title "Miniaturen" he offers a selection of very short pieces - the shortest takes just 31 seconds, the longest three minutes - from a large number of composers, mostly from the first half of the 18th century, with little excursions to the second half of that century and to the late 17th.

Magnus, born in Argentina, lives and works in Germany and performs both as a soloist and as a member of chamber music ensembles; he also plays with 'modern orchestras'. From 2010 to 2013 he was assistant to Reinhard Goebel at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He realises that his programme is rather unusual and explains that his fascination with miniatures goes back to his youth and was not confined to music but included all the arts. "When it comes to music, specifically 17th and 18th century keyboard music, we find a large number of small-scale pieces of great musical value and inspired poetry", he writes in his liner-notes. He emphasizes that all of these pieces are challenging in different ways which he then illustrates with some examples from the programme he has recorded. He also points out that these pieces give us some idea of the element of improvisation which was so fundamental in the baroque era.

One can be of different opinion about a programme like this. There is no doubt that it is very interesting, especially as Magnus has included pieces by composers who are largely unknown quantities. I mention here a certain Monsieur de La Barre, a French composer of the 17th century, and Bernard de Bury who lived almost a century later. From Germany Benedict Schultheiss is the least-known; Christian Ritter is almost exclusively known because some of his music was included in the so-called Andreas Bach Buch. From a much later generation is Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a contemporary of the sons of Bach, whose name is better known than his music. The keyboard music by Graupner is still in the process of being discovered and from Sweden we have Johan Jochim Agrell who for many years worked in southern Germany. From that perspective this disc is mouth-watering, also because all these pieces are indeed of good quality. That makes one wish to hear more, not only of a particular suite from which a short extract has been chosen, but also from a composer.

And that brings me to the downside: you would want to hear more but Magnus just goes on with a different piece by a different composer. He plays only one instrument: a copy of a two-manual harpsichord by Pascal Taskin. An instrument like this is suitable for most pieces in the programme. The temperament is called "free, inspired by models of Kirnberger". That seems a little less plausible for the older pieces and the French items. These issues take nothing away from my great appreciation of this recording. Ricardo Magnus is a very fine and sensitive player who grabs the listener with his mastery of the material and his differentiated interpretations. He makes a perfect start with the Rondeau in C by Duphly where he impresses with his refined and relaxed manner of playing. His improvisatory skills come to the fore in the Prélude non mesuré in C by Louis Couperin, and in the latter's La Piémontoise one can hear him at his most extroverted.

I very much would like to hear him in larger pieces but it seems that is not going to happen as he suggests the recording of another selection of miniatures.

Jean-Christophe Dijoux is also a young artist who is at the start of his career. Born in France in 1982 he studied the harpsichord in his native country, in Germany and at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. He has won several competitions, among them the Bach Competition in Leipzig in the harpsichord category in 2014. He performs as a soloist and in ensembles; in 2012 he was a member of the European Union Baroque Orchestra.

The present disc is his first solo recording. Whereas Magnus decided to play short miniatures from composers across Europe, Dijoux confined himself to music written in or around Hamburg. The only exception is Johann Sebastian Bach, but his Toccata in g minor shows the influence of the North German organ school and therefore it fits stylistically into the programme, especially as it is preceded by pieces from the pen of two composers who strongly influenced him: Dieterich Buxtehude and Georg Böhm.

Dijoux deserves much praise for his choice of repertoire. He opens with four pieces by Handel which he has put together to a suite. With the exception of the eight suites which were published in 1720 Handel's keyboard music is not really part of the standard repertoire of today's harpsichordists. The pieces by Buxtehude and Böhm are better known, but Böhm's Partita Jesu, du bist allzu schöne is mostly played at the organ; therefore a performance at the harpsichord offers a different perspective. Even more important is the choice of three pieces by Johann Mattheson, who is very well-known as a theorist but whose compositions are highly underrated, and the Overture in G by Telemann. The latter is a very fashionable composer these days, but his keyboard music is probably the most underestimated part of his oeuvre.

Dijoux emphasizes the importance of improvisation in this kind of repertoire. His treatment of Handel's pieces is one example of it, especially the opening Prélude in g minor (HWV 573). It includes only the harmonic structure and has to be worked out by the interpreter. It was a nice idea - and a token of Dijoux's creativity - to play these pieces in the form of a suite. This is followed by two pieces which are specimens of the stylus phantasticus which was a feature of the North German organ school. This has strong improvisational traits, and that certainly goes for the genre of the toccata of which Buxtehude's Toccata in G is an impressive example. That aspect has to be conveyed in any performance, and that is the case here. In the Böhm partita Dijoux takes some liberties in the harmonization of the chorale and the repeats.

Here he makes frequent use of the 16' stop of his harpsichord, built by Matthias Kramer "in the spirit of Zell and Fleischer in Hamburg, 1754", as the booklet says. Those who have read previous reviews of harpsichord discs know that I am rather sceptical about the use of the 16'. I am still not convinced that this was widespread in Germany. Even if we assume that this was indeed the case, the question is when it was introduced. Did Böhm knew instruments with a 16' stop? A performance of a chorale partita with a 16' in a way egalises the difference between the harpsichord and the organ, giving it more weight, so to speak. But I don't find this heavy sound very pleasant; it is probably also a matter of taste.

The improvisational elements in Dijoux's playing and a sensible application of rubato result in a compelling performance of Bach's Toccata in g minor. The three pieces by Mattheson are very different in character and that comes off perfectly here. Telemann's Overture in G is a very nice piece; it is a mystery to me why his keyboard music receives so little attention. The opening ouverture is excellent and so is the aria. The disc ends with an energetic performance of the Rondo in C by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The dynamic contrasts are realised here by switching from one manual to the other during play. A clavichord or fortepiano would be an alternative but a harpsichord is certainly legitimate.

This piece brings a disc to a close which I rate very highly. Dijoux is an outstanding player and I am sure we will hear much more from him.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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Jean-Christophe Dijoux

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