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Charlotte Mattax Moersch at the Smithsonian

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Pierre Fevrier, Pièces de Clavecin, C. Mattax Moersch

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W. F. Bach, Keyboard Sonatas, C. Mattax Moersch
The tour of accomplished harpsichordists playing on historical instruments in the Smithsonian's Hall of Musical Instruments continued on Saturday night, at the National Museum of American History. After recitals by Arthur Haas and Mitzi Meyerson last weekend, it was time to hear Charlotte Mattax Moersch, a prize-winner at the Paris and Bruges harpsichord competitions who has made many recordings and now teaches at the University of Illinois. The series of four concerts, which concluded on Sunday night, was in preparation for this week's Westfield Center International Harpsichord Academy and Competition, which begins today at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park. Both of last weekend's performers played on the 1760 Benoist Stehlin harpsichord, which Mattax Moersch used for her French first half, choosing the 1745 harpsichord built by Johann Daniel Dulcken in Antwerp for her second half of music by J. S. Bach.

Mattax Moersch has excellent hands, and the finesse with which she approached some complicated and detailed music was always striking. She used the prelude of the opening Troisième Suite by Jean-Henri d'Anglebert (1635-1692) to make an introspective exploration of the Stehlin's range of sounds, taking time with the unusual harmonic changes, adding some registration changes on repeats of some sections in the dances. Neither the gigue nor the courante was overly fast, but it was all clean and lilting, while the Sarabande, played with a full, even heavy registration and interpretative approach, was bent and tweaked almost out of its meter, with lovely embellishments on the repeats. The suite's concluding Tombeau, honoring M. de Chambonnières, a harpsichordist who died in 1672, took advantage of the Stehlin's softer side, a thoughtful rumination that sometimes got a little lost in itself. It was followed by another welcome chance to hear the music of Armand-Louis Couperin, some flashy selections from his Pièces de Clavecin: a playful, flirtatious L'Arlequine with a tart, shiny flavor, an enigmatic La Chéron, and a fancy-fingered La Blanchet, named for the Parisian harpsichord builder whose daughter Armand-Louis married.

The Dulcken instrument, brighter and chirpier, was a good match for the intricacies of the Bach selections, beginning with Bach's D minor sonata (D. 964, transcribed from a violin sonata). The pensive Adagio movement did not have much to notice but Mattax Moersch added a pleasing manual shift effect in the Allegro, that immaculate touch making for almost no stray notes. The recital reached its apogee with the challenges of Bach's D major partita, opening with its brilliant overture, especially in the fast contrapuntal part, taken at a fiery tempo. The rhythmic detours of the Allemande rolled freely, like the opening up of the melodic ideas they are supposed to be, and the Courante and Gigue were sprightly, the Menuet bouncy. She put the Aria after the Sarabande, keeping the Aria airy and light and again twisting the Sarabande around too many corners and yet cutting short that hanging half note in the strange opening gesture, one of the interpretative tangles of this odd little movement. The only noticeable slips were in the repeats of both sections of the Gigue, which at the end of the concert, she probably should have omitted anyway. An Adagio by Belgian composer Joseph-Hector Fiocco (1703-1741) was offered as an encore, chosen, Mattax Moersch said, to show off the sound qualities of the Dulcken harpsichord.

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