Delicious Harpsichord Concertos by Rutter, Glass, and Françaix

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

What a great disc this is: three delightful contemporary works for harpsichord and orchestra, easy on the ear, but clever and consistently interesting. John Rutter’s Suite Antique might be English Poulenc. The tunes are captivating, and the “antique” element needs to be taken with a large grain of salt (the “waltz” is subtitled “A Jazz Waltz”). The writing for flute and strings is immaculate, graceful, and sounds like great fun to play, while the keyboard solo takes excellent advantage of the instrument’s sparkling timbres and ability to delineate rhythmic patterns with gentle persistence. The performance is also terrific, as fine as the composer’s own, with John McMurtery an excellent flute soloist with a firm, round tone.

Glass’ Harpsichord Concerto also has plenty of arresting harmonies and a wide range of textures. The outer movements chug along with unquenchable vitality, and even touches of humor in the finale, while the central slowish movement makes imaginative play with a variety of melodic shapes. It’s extremely visual: you can almost see the music as it unfolds. Glass takes full advantage of the harpsichord’s natural ability to act both as soloist and accompaniment, with the result that the music’s shifting layers consistently entertain through, and not despite, the usual abundance of repetition.

As for the Françaix, the Concerto begins with two contrasting toccatas, followed by a songful andantino, minuet, and finale. It’s a zesty romp that brings the disc to a wholly winning close. Christopher D. Lewis plays a bright, sweet-toned harpsichord with minimal mechanical clatter. His digital dexterity proves very satisfying, and he’s excellently balanced against the extremely capable West Side Chamber Orchestra under Kevin Mallon. This is one of those discs that you might overlook, but you’d be missing a real treat. I’ve already played it several times just for pleasure, and so will you.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this coupling


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