The Harpsichord is back

David Shavreen reviews the latest presentation of Blenheim Concerts

Blenheim Concerts

Programme for 2005 season

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An Afternoon of Mediterranean Music in the Sun

On Sunday, 7th November, Blenheim Concerts presented a most unusual programme given by Yeo Yat Soon, Harpsichord, and Helen Vickery, Piano, playing separately, and, on occasions and very bravely, together.

The Harpsichord, the sine qua non of domestic music and music in consort during the 17th and 18th centuries, fell out of favour with the rise of the Pianoforte, so that soon “the scratching of the quill in the Harpsichord” was found to be intolerable. But today the Harpsichord is back in favour and has even attracted young composers to write new pieces.

The programme was like a bag of assorted sweets delicious pieces of confectionery with exciting flavours ranging from the 17th century Giles Farnaby’s “Almain for two Virginals” to the present day with young Bernard Hughes’s interpretation of a work by Dr. John Bull, that sterling Elizabethan whose name epitomises all that is English.

Two nations dominated the programme: in the first half it was Spain and in the second France. Two sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, who lived in Spain for thirty years, were beautifully rendered by Yeo Yat-Soon on his French-style Harpsichord, and this was followed by one of Granados’s Goyescas - the Maiden and the Nightingale played most poetically by Helen Vickery on the Piano. The first half finished with a concerto for two instruments, and here the two instruments played together. This was the daring bit, for the triumphant Piano, especially in its Grand version, threatens to overwhelm by its sheer power the gently twanging Harpsichord, but in this case the Piano was kept under firm control and Soler’s concerto sparkled.

The second half began with Bernard Hughes’s specially composed piece exploiting every resource of the Harpsichord. The gentle beast was at times transformed into a spitting Fury - the nearest that a Harpsichord can get to thundering in rage but then calm followed. After chaos came a lyrical passage to soothe the storm. However, it was the Couperins and Ravel who dominated the second half. The Couperins were masters of the Harpsichord and Ravel a great pianist but conscious of his debt to the earlier masters. Miss Vickery gave a splendid interpretation of the Prelude and Rigaudon from “Le Tombeau de Couperin". Mr. Yeo delighted us with a recently discovered Prelude in C minor by Louis Couperin which in its impressionistic style seemed to foreshadow the later master, François. This most famous of all the Couperins was represented by a cheerful set of variations with affinities to Handel

The concert ended with a fine sonata for two keyboards by W.F.Bach which received the same meticulous balancing that had proved so successful in the Soler. A bold experiment, then, that proved most enjoyable.

The first concert of the 2005 Season will be given by “Take Twenty” Jazz Choir conducted by Malcolm Abbs at 3.30 p.m. on Sunday, 16th January at the Chiswick Catholic Centre in Dukes Avenue. The programme is called “Broadway Baby” and includes the ever-popular works of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Sondheim, Irving Berlin and many more.

David Shavreen

November 25, 2004

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