Part of the reason that we were able to hear Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr in an excellent duo recital earlier this week was that they are promoting their new CD of early Schubert violin sonatas. Played on two 19th-century instruments, the sound is much fuller and more incisive, the violin especially (Pierre Pacherelle, Nice, 1834), than what we heard in the recital. The four sonatas selected were all changed from their original title of sonata to smaller genres like sonatina or duo, and none was published during Schubert's lifetime. They are not exactly juvenilia -- the term means little with a composer like Schubert, who was so startlingly prolific and simultaneously short-lived -- and Manze and Egarr are hardly rescuing these pieces from obscurity (although no earlier recording of these pieces has made much of an impact on me).
Available at Amazon:
Schubert, Violin Sonatas, A. Manze, R. Egarr (released on October 9, 2007)
Some of the tracks that have merited repeated listening are the slow movement of D. 384 and the last movement of D. 408 (both noted in the review of the recital, too). One wishes that Manze and Egarr had chosen the A minor sonata, D. 385, although it was probably too long and also requires forceful playing possibly not a good match for the instruments heard at Clarice Smith. Especially its melancholy first movement, with enigmatic big melodic leaps, is worthwhile. Many aspects of the fast movements especially bring the young Schubert into comparison with Beethoven, the clever, quick scherzo of D. 574 and melodies consisting of short rhythmic motifs. The value of this disc is in those historic instruments and in the sensibilities of the performers, both major figures in the British historically informed performance movement who have been playing together for years. A truly authentic performance is nearly impossible -- even a baroqueux nut like me admits that -- but this disc gets to the historical heart of these works.
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907445
The real test, one might say, of Bradley Lehman's recently proposed theory of precisely what tempered tuning J. S. Bach used for his own harpsichord would be how it sounds on the work intended to demonstrate it, the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier. That is, the theoretical bravura of that set of pieces, a prelude and fugue for each major and minor key in each volume, is that it would expose the wolf tunings on an instrument without the right tempering. Richard Egarr writes in his liner essay for his new recording of Book I of the WTC that Prof. Lehman's theory has
Available at Amazon:
Bach, Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, vol. 1, R. Egarr (harpsichord) (released on October 9, 2007)
now been thrown around the Internet and hugely debated, resulting in the seemingly inevitable opposing camps of believers and non-believers.
I am a believer.
One may think that yours truly is contained within that elliptical phrase "around the Internet," as I have expressed doubts about the theory, not about its plausibility but about the possibility of actually proving it without more explicit evidence. Ultimately, it matters little: Egarr uses Lehman's tuning, and the 1991 Joel Katzman harpsichord, a copy of a 17th-century Ruckers instrument from 1638, sounds beautiful. The warm sound, captured in Haarlem's Doopsgezinde Kerk, preserves more tone than mechanical action, but enough of the latter to add excitement to the texture (one odd loss of background sound occurs at 2:12 of track 8 on the second CD, but that may be an anomaly). As noted of some of Egarr's other recordings, his pace can be leisurely and the hesitations in some of the moto perpetuo type of preludes (C major and C minor, to name a couple) border on cloying. Egarr uses individualistic articulation and timing to good effect, however, in distinguishing voices from one another in the fugues.
WTC on Piano:
Not being the sort of person who could settle for only one recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier, it is hard to compare apples and oranges with all of the recordings available. If forced to live with only one recording, as with the Goldberg Variations, it would have to be harpsichord for me. The title indicates, as Egarr notes, that Bach's intention, if one can be discerned at all, is that the pieces could be played by any keyboard instrument. To my ear, it sounds the best on the harpsichord, but there are several fine recordings on modern piano (those by Hewitt, Fellner, and Gould, listed at left, are my favorites). Good recordings on older instruments include Kenneth Gilbert on harpsichord and Ralph Kirkpatrick on clavichord, not so much Wanda Landowska on harpsichord (of historical interest, but not great listening). On the basis of Céline Frisch's Goldberg Variations recording, my current favorite, the possibility of her take on the WTC is most tantalizing. Until then, Egarr's version has my ear.
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907431.32