For imaginative choice of repertoire married to sterling performances, this has got to be one of the outstanding discs of 2019. Yes, there are great 20th-century harpsichord concertos besides those of Poulenc, Martin, Falla, and Martinu. Jory Vinikour has chosen four. Let’s get right to the music, which spans a 60+ year period, from the Walter Leigh Concertino of 1934 to Michael Nyman’s virtuosic Concerto for Amplified Harpsichord and Strings of 1995. The Leigh is charming, busy, neoclassically English, and nine minutes of pure joy. Nyman’s concerto is considerably more substantial and full of surprises. The various sections play continuously, organized around a central tango followed by a thrilling cadenza for the soloist that Vinikour plays marvelously.
In between these two works, we have the world-premiere recording of Ned Rorem’s early Concertino da Camera for harpsichord and seven instruments, already recognizably his own voice in its French elegance and distinctively beautiful harmonies. The most substantial and serious work, however, is Viktor Kalabis’ Concerto Op. 42. Written for his wife, the legendary Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková, the piece is a deeply intimate, often troubled work that haunts the memory. The harmonic palette is acerbic but always expressive, and the writing for strings in combination with the solo keyboard is just exquisite–perfectly judged and finding an amazing range of color despite the limited forces employed. Again, Vinikour plays with great sensitivity and feeling, especially in the central Andante.
The accompaniments provided by the Chicago Philharmonic under Scott Speck are ideally calibrated, while the engineering balances the harpsichord(s) perfectly against the larger ensembles. Vinikour also deserves a shout-out for selecting instruments that invariably suit the music, and sound attractive in their own right. You can play the entire 75-minute disc without ever tiring of the solo timbres. As I already said, this is surely one of the discs of the year.