musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Historical Keyboard Instruments

[I] "Instruments from the Russell Collection"
John Kitchen, clavichorda, fortepianob, harpsichordc, organd, spinete, virginalf

rec: Dec 15 & 18, 2000, Edinburgh, St Cecilia's Hall
Delphian Records - DCD 34001 (© 2001) (75'53")

[II] "Instruments from the Raymond Russell Collection, Volume II"
John Kitchen, clavichorda, harpsichordc, organd, spinete, square pianof, virginalg

rec: April 13 - 15, 2005, Edinburgh, St Cecilia's Hall
Delphian Records - DCD34039 (© 2005) (77'22")

[I] anon (16th C, Scotland): Gailliarda la Reyne d'Écosseg; Queen of Scots Galliardg; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Wohltemperirtes Clavier, II: Prelude and fugue in E flat (BWV 876)a; William BYRD (1542/43-1623): Pavana The Earle of Salisbury & Galiardoc; Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832): Sonatina in D, Op. 36,6b [12]; Armand-Louis COUPERIN (1727-1789): L'Affligéec; Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745): 3e Suite in D: La Régente; La Du Vaucel; La Morangis ou La Plissayc; Maurice GREENE (1695-1755): Suite in Fc [6]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Fugue in a minor (HWV 609)d [5]; Overture Rodelindac [9]; Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665): Capriccio cromaticog; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata in f minor (K 481)e; Sonata in G (K 471)e; John STANLEY (1712-1786): Voluntary in G, Op. 7,9d [8]; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Ballo del granducac

[II] anon (England, 18th C): Fy gar rub her o'er with Strawe [10]; The Flowers of the Forreste [10]; Maggy Laudere [10]; Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795): Adagioa [11]; Andantea [11]; 2 Marchesa [11]; Menueta [11]; John BLOW (1649-1708): Voluntary in Cd; Armand-Louis COUPERIN (1727-1789): Les Tendres Sentimensc [7]; L'Affligéec [7]; L'Enjouéec [7]; Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Partita in E 'November' (GWV 119) [3]: praeludium; menuet; gavotte; chaconnec; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Suite in d minor (HWV 437)c [4]; Franz Xaver MOZART (1791-1844): Polonaise mélancolique No 1 in c minorf [13]; Polonaise mélancolique No 2 in a minorf [13]; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): March in C (Z 648)e [2]; Minuet in a minor (Z 649)e [2]; A new Ground in e minor (ZT682)e [2]; A new Scotch Tune in C (Z 655)e [2]; A new Irish Tune in G (Z 6460)e [2]; Michelangelo ROSSI (1601/02-1656): Toccata VIIg [1]; Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656): A sad Pavan for these distracted timesd

Sources: [1] Michelangelo Rossi, Toccate e correnti d'intavolatura d'organo e cimbalo, 1657; [2] The Second Part of Musick’s Hand-maid, 1689; [3] Christoph Graupner, Monatliche Clavir Früchte, 1722; George Frideric Handel, [4] Suites de pieces pour le clavecin, 1733; George Frideric Handel, [5] Six Fugues or Voluntarys, op. 3, 1735; [6] Maurice Greene, A Collection of Lessons for the harpsichord, 1750; [7] Armand-Louis Couperin, Pièces de clavecin, 1751; [8] John Stanley, Ten Voluntarys, op. 7, 1754; [9] John Walsh (ed), Handel's Sixty Overtures from all his Operas and Oratorios Set for the Harpsichord or Organ, 1755; [10] Robert Bremner (ed). The Harpsichord or Spinnet Miscellany, 1765; [11] Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, Musikalische Nebenstunden, 1787-88; [12] Muzio Clementi, 6 Progressive Pianoforte Sonatinas, op. 36, 1797; [13] Franz Xaver Mozart, Quatre Polonaises mélancoliques, c1822

There was a time the sound of historical instruments like recorder, viola da gamba, clavichord and virginal was new to both musicians and music lovers. Those instruments were preserved in museums, but never played, let alone used for concerts and recordings. In our time performances of music of the past on the instruments for which it was written are common practice. But as real historical instruments are often too precious or too fragile to use them on the concert platform most of the time modern copies are played. And even in recordings historical instruments are seldom used. Therefore discs like these are still interesting to listen to, as they document the sound of the original instruments. But they should not create the illusion we hear the instruments exactly as they sounded when they were built. Many instruments have been restored in order to make them playable again, and there is no guarantee this hasn't changed their sound to some extent.

The instruments played by John Kitchen are all part of the Raymond Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments in Edinburgh. Raymond Russell (1922 - 1964) began to collect historical keyboard instruments shortly after World War II and published a book on harpsichord and clavichord in 1959, which included pictures of instruments that are part of the collection. After his death the collection was made available to the University of Edinburgh for study purposes. In 1968 instruments from the collection were presented to the public for the first time, in the same venue where these recordings have been made. Since Russell's death more instruments have been added to the collection. These two discs present only a small selection of the instruments in the collection, but they show its whole compass, from late 16th-century virginals to early 19th-century fortepianos.

The instruments are demonstrated here with music which suits them. I am formulating it this way - not the other way round. The instruments are in the centre here: the music chosen could have been played on these instruments, but probably wasn't specifically composed for them. For example the overture to Handel's opera Rodelinda (Vol. 1) was published in a keyboard arrangement by John Walsh in 1755. Therefore it was not intended to be played on the kind of harpsichord John Broadwood built in 1793, and which is used here. But, considering the continuing popularity of Handel's music in England after his death there can be no doubt that a piece like this overture will have been played on this particular instrument. Even so I would have preferred a piece which is more suited to take advantage of one of the features of this instrument, the Venetian swell mechanism. This was used to make the instrument able to deal with the crescendo and diminuendo effects many keyboard pieces of the late 18th century asked for.

Also the two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (Vol. 1) were definitely not intended to be played on the Hitchcock spinet of around 1728 on which they are played here, but as Scarlatti was very popular in England there can be little doubt that his sonatas were played at home on an instrument like this. Spinets were instruments for domestic use, which is one of the reasons they are seldom used, both on the concert platform and in recordings.

The instruments vary in regard to temperament and pitch, although one wonders to which extent they are the same as they originally were, as both can be easily changed. Something that I found especially interesting is the enharmonic instruments which appear on both discs. The Toccata VII by Michelangelo Rossi is played on an 'enharmonic virginal', built around 1620 in Venice. This instrument has two 'black keys' in every octave split into two halves. This means that D sharp and E flat - which have one key on modern keyboard instruments - have their own key on this virginal. The same is the case for G sharp and A flat. Instruments like this are rare, and it seems they were only built and used in Italy in the first half of the 17th century. Therefore it is remarkable that the first volume presents a chamber organ, built by Thomas Parker in London as late as around 1765, which is based on the same principle. "It is equipped with two levers that operate extra pipes for the enharmonic equivalents of all the accidental notes except for F sharp: C sharp/D flat, D sharp/E flat, G sharp/A flat and A sharp/B flat".

As far as the repertoire on these discs is concerned, apart from some well-known pieces, like the compositions by Sweelinck, Scarlatti, Bach and Forqueray, there are also little-known pieces, for instance anonymous compositions from several collections. It is here where John Kitchen's playing is most satisfying. Generally I am less impressed by his interpretations of larger works, by the likes of Handel and Forqueray. There is too much legato playing, which makes some pieces sound too massive (Forqueray), and sometimes the phrasing is unsatisfying (Sweelinck). Some works by English virginalists are a little wooden and lack contrast. Byrd's Pavana The Earle of Salisbury (Vol. 1) is too slow: at that time the pavan wasn't the slow dance it was to become in the 18th century. Michelangelo Rossi's Toccata VII isn't very exciting here: the interpretation is too straightforward. But there are also good performances of the organ pieces, the sonata by Clementi and the suite by Greene. In the second volume the pieces by Purcell (played on the spinet) and the Musikalische Nebenstunden by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, played on a beautiful clavichord by Hubert (1784), are also played quite well.

To sum up: the main significance of these discs is the demonstration of the sound of these precious instruments with music which explores their characteristics. From that perspective I recommend them, and I sincerely hope that these instruments shall be used sometime in other recordings which concentrate on the music rather than the instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2006)

Relevant links:

St Cecilia's Hall Museum of Instruments

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