In this series of recordings from 2019 I play a few pieces of my repertoire, and some of them both on the organ and the harpsichord. I am of course using internal sounds of my Roland RD-700 stage piano, while I did have to creatively modify the existing sounds for both instruments, which took me quite a while and a sustained effort.
There are several reasons why I prefer to record Baroque music with instrument sounds that are closer to their origins than the modern concert grand piano. First off, an electronic keyboard will probably never reproduce an original Hamburg Steinway D, with all that this involves. Especially the resonance of the piano’s body, the internal reflections of the sound, the resonance of the other strings, and the very specific hammer touch and pedal noise are all not reproduced by the admittedly outdated technology that my Roland RD-700 uses.
Second, and more importantly, the music when played on the instruments it was composed for, sounds more convincing, more integrated somehow, more at ease with itself, so to speak, and more tranquil. Let me give an example. Take the recordings of the WTC 1 and 2 by Svjatoslav Richter played on a Steinway D, and compare that with Kenneth Gilbert’s rendering of the same pieces on a historical harpsichord. Well, there is an entire philosophy behind both ways to render Baroque in our time, and the two groups shall never meet …
For me, the Gilbert recordings are ultimately convincing, as here not only sound and content are matching, but also speed and Baroque mentality. With Richter’s recordings, the tempi of the Preludes are often either two fast or too slow given the Baroque ideal of ‘temperance’ in all kinds of self-expression.
Temperance means to go a ‘Middle Way’ between the extremes. That excludes to hammer down a piece without any sensitivity in the way Richter did for example with Prelude 2 from WTC 2. What excels in his play is piano technique, and you hear that he must have endlessly repeated the piece to get it so perfect, but that kind of perfection comes at a high price: it denies the music its originality, its embeddedness in Baroque, which was a time where no extremes in art and music were tolerated. The ‘performance paradigm’ dates from the late times of Beethoven till today but was not part of Baroque mentality. Hence, to hammer these pieces or any other Baroque pieces down, for that matter, is not what musicology suggests, and it is not for the palate of musicians who prefer originality over imitation! And I am one of them …
The Gilbert Album excels in precisely avoiding all such extremes, and the pieces are all played in a balanced, reposed, laid-back manner that is in sync with the Baroque ideal of moderation. In addition, the instrument has its say as well: you cannot ratter down a piece on a historical harpsichord as you can do that on a modern concert grand, because the instrument has its natural limitations, and those need to be respected!
And we all know that Richter respected no pianos at all, and played on pianos that were absolutely impossible for recording, for he just did not care! That is not responsible musicianship, for there is not only the performer but also the instrument, and this instrument must be a total expression of the musical philosophy behind the composition!
Here is all the contents of the Youtube Playlist:
—Invention 1, on both the Organ and the Harpsichord (BWV 772)
—Invention 4, on both the Organ and the Harpsichord (BWV 775)
—An Adagio from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 691)
—A Minuet from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 841)
—A Moderato from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 924)
—Two Allegros from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 927, 928)
—A Moderato from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 939)
—Suite 8, Allemande
—Suite 15, Allemande