Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pinnock Plays Landowska Tribute Show at LOC

I am trying to start this review without some dull generic observations about "the harpsichord" but that is proving difficult, so... It strikes me that it is very hard to lie on a harpsichord, which is a good thing. Yet the harpsichord as solo instrument suffers much the same fate as the organ in its accessibility to modern ears, i.e. neither gets a fair shake on record. To get into the harpsichord at length, you really need to hear it live, whereas a modern piano recording, if not the same as a live performance, is pretty persuasive on its own.
As for the program...Trevor Pinnock is just a delight, and peppered the concert with background on Landowska and fascinating introductions to the works. His playing is infectious and charming in a DIY sort of way. He finds the singing or dancing line in a piece and lets the rest coalesce around it. Also, he is not about to let a little gold leaf deter him from doling out the punishment that bad keyboard deserves.
Highlights of the program included a Handel Chaconne and Variations opener, picturesque pieces by William Byrd and contemporaries (Bells, Birds, that sort of thing), and a mid-17th c "Lamento" of Jonah Froberger that evaporated into an exuberant reading of the Bach French Suite No. 5. The second half featured some elegant French numbers and three Scarlatti sonatas, austere and grave on the harpsichord in a manner quite different from their usual impression on the modern keyboard.
Also onstage was one of Landowska's own pleyel harpsichords, a beast of an instrument with *4* sets of strings (the extra is basically a 17th c subwoofer) and somewhere between 6 to 14 pedals below. Like a harpsichord but with teeth. Pinnock demonstrated the instrument at the close of each half, and had a good chuckle with the audience over a number of false starts from difficulty maneuvering his feet (good sketch fodder for the nerdiest variety show ever, mind you). The effect when he eventually got it right was quite special though, adding additional dimensions of depth to the sound, to which he attributed some of the "grandeur" Landowska communicates in her recordings.
Update: Migette's review here, also check this very instructive matchup she posted of Landowska and Pinnock playing Bach. Downey has great resources here.

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