J. S. Bach, Das wohltemperierte Clavier, Book 1, R. Egarr (2007)
Mozart, Fantasias and
Rondos, R. Egarr (2006)
At the end of the semifinal round, Egarr agreed to give a recital-seminar on a fortepiano, on Thursday night. If the conservatory world is coming to grips with the HIP movement -- jury chairman Santiago Rodriguez was in the audience -- listeners are not always in step. More than one Kapell regular who has attended almost every performance told me that they had no interest in hearing a pianoforte, and indeed the audience in the small recital was the sparsest it has been for any of these feature recitals. This was doubly sad, because grand piano aficionados should have their universes expanded beyond the historical continuum between Mozart and Rachmaninoff, and because Egarr, who spoke with considerable charm about the sort of historical information he uses to guide him in his performances (touching on types of instruments used by the composers he was playing, temperament and tuning -- including the infamous affair of the squiggle -- articulation, embellishment), presented the HIP process knowledgeably but without any hint of snobbish orthodoxy.
If he had been obsessed with historical correctness, Egarr observed, he would have had to use at least four different instruments, but he played on only one, a Thomas and Barbara Wolf fortepiano, modeled on a Johann Schantz instrument from Austria. In fact, keyboard technology was advancing at a dizzying pace in the 18th and 19th centuries -- Egarr likened it to advances in computer technology today -- and most composers had access over their lifetimes to several different instruments, and most would have been happy to perform music on any of them and take advantage of whatever advances in sound and control they could. Egarr began with the first prelude and fugue from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, explaining that Bach wrote at one point that he often played the now-famous prelude by leaving out the second half of each measure, that is, playing only one iteration of each arpeggiated chord. Egarr also played the fugue’s subject with a straight rhythm (eighth-note followed by two sixteenths, instead of the dotted pattern usually heard). This, he explained, was what manuscript evidence showed was the rhythm first written down: much later, someone carefully went through the manuscript adding dots and extra beams.
Anne Midgette, Richard Egarr demonstrates pianoforte’s elegance with music and musings at Clarice Smith Center (Washington Post, July 21)