Byrd, Complete Music for Keyboard, D. Moroney (2010)
Le Clavecin Français: Marchand and Clérambault, D. Moroney (2007)
Thus he began with Henry Purcell's D major suite, published posthumously by the composer's wife, on a little virginal built by Andreas Ruckers (Antwerp, 1620). Last week, in preparation for my preview article on the competition for the Washington Post, Kenneth Slowik gave me a quick introduction to these precious historical instruments, including the two virginals in the collection. One of these virginals has the peculiar feature, not uncommon in early keyboard instruments, of cleft chromatic keys -- that is, the G♯ and A♭ are tuned to different frequencies, and the player activates them by playing on the upper or lower part of the key, which is split in two. (There are examples of this in early organ pedal boards, too.) The virginal that Moroney played does not have that feature, but it was designed for a quinte tuning, meaning that it sounds a fifth higher than the keyboard indicates. The instrument, played with the musician standing up, has a beautiful, fragile, slightly tinny sound, with a limited compass on the keyboard, to which Purcell's little suite was well suited.
Thomas Wolf, the Washington-area harpsichord builder who has been at all the concerts -- his wife, Barbara, an expert in her own accord, has been tuning all the instruments used for the concerts and competition -- has been telling me some wonderful stories about what instrument builders go through to keep these instruments in shape. The Ruckers has apparently not been played in a concert for a few years, and it had to be re-quilled for this event: the old mechanism uses quills, generally from a crow or similarly sized bird, to pluck the strings. These quills need to be replaced periodically, which causes some issues in how to acquire the wings of recently killed crows. After encountering some problems in this area, Wolf got into touch with the Texas Crow Patrol, which helps control the crow population in the agricultural fields of Texas. As it turns out, Wolf's contact at that organization has a son who is an organist.
Moroney matched Louis Couperin's E minor suite and three dances by William Byrd to the single-manual instrument built by Nicolaus de Quoco (Florence, 1694). When Kenneth Slowik showed me this harpsichord, he directed me to smell the interior of the box as soon as he opened the case: sure enough, lingering there was the smell of the cypress wood used 300-some years ago to build the instrument. Moroney gave the Couperin set some beautiful embellishments, not allowing the Sarabande to drag at all, and following a practice in France, created a gigue-like variation of the Allemande for this suite that does not have a concluding Gigue. (He explained this performing choice for the sake of the competitors seated in the first few rows, some of whom may have prepared these pieces for the competition, so that they did not panic about this Gigue not in their scores.)
Stephen Brookes, Davitt Moroney showcases the harpsichord’s eloquence (Washington Post, August 14)