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Andreas Staier Waxes Saturnine

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...pour passer la melancolie, A. Staier
(Harmonia Mundi, 2013)
Early keyboard specialist Andreas Staier got his start as harpsichordist of the excellent historically informed performance ensemble Musica Antiqua Köln, sadly now defunct. Staier has released a series of excellent recordings on the Harmonia Mundi label, which we have followed with great interest at Ionarts. He always plays on interesting and historically appropriate instruments, whether in Mozart concerti or an especially delightful Beethoven Diabelli Variations. Although Staier has played somewhere in Washington some years ago, our first opportunity to review him in a live concert finally came on Wednesday evening, in a beautiful recital at the Library of Congress.

Staier played the same program as on his 2013 CD, ...pour passer la melancolie, devoted to the subject of melancholy as found in musical representations of the theme of Vanitas — down to the Courante of Clérambault's first book of Pièces de Clavecin, left off the program but definitely played. Thomas and Barbara Wolf brought their harpsichord built in 2005, modeled on a Nicolas Dumont instrument from 1707, loaned by the University of Maryland; happily, Staier did not play any part of the program on the Landowska Pleyel in the Library's collection. One obvious side of musical melancholy came in the rhapsodic freedom Staier took in the preludes and other free pieces, taken with a free sense of rubato that had the feel of improvisation. This was balanced by dance pieces in more strict rhythm, as well as fugues and other contrapuntal pieces that were more cerebral.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Contemplating mortality, with pleasure, at harpsichord recital (Washington Post, March 10)

James R. Oestreich, Andreas Staier on the Harpsichord, Coaxing Gravity and Gloom (New York Times, March 7)
Minor finger slips or places where the key did not quite make the key sound only served to underscore the contemplation of the fleeting nature of human endeavor, in music or anything else. As he did with the instrument on the recording, a reconstructed historical instrument, Staier brought out a charming range of sounds from the Wolf harpsichord, by combining stops in unexpected ways. A full registration in the prelude from the first book of d'Anglebert's Pièces de Clavecin set up the more mellow Tombeau de Mr. de Chambonnières that followed.

In all of these lament pieces, like Louis Couperin's Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher and Froberger's plaint on his own misfortunes during a trip to England, Staier used the hesitations and slow pacing to create a sense of ineffable nostalgia. Never did the concept of the Doctrine of the Affections, espoused by late Baroque theorists, seem so relevant as this music in this performance steeped a room in sympathetic gloom. Insufficient applause prevented Staier from playing an encore, which may possibly have been the only piece from the CD he did not play, Froberger's lament on the death of King Ferdinand IV.

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