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The Baroque Chamber Orchestra, New York
directing from the Harpsichord
Total time 71:35
Sylvia Marlowe is a legend.
She played an enormous role in widening popular interest in baroque music, and Bach in particular. She was also one of the world's great harpsichordists. Her phrasing, articulation, and precision of touch have rarely been equaled.
Ms Marlowe's program displays the talents of both Bach and Handel in keyboard composition. Bach's Toccatas were early compositions, virtuosic pieces in which the performer was expected to add both a certain flair as well as personal touches of interpretation in tempi and phrasing. The Italian Concerto is a later work dating from 1735 when it was published in the Second Part of Bach's Clavierübung or "Keyboard Practice"; here the solo keyboard achieves the effect of a concerto through the alternation of structural density (loud passages with both manuals coupled, contrasting with recitative style passages with softer registration on the upper manual, for example). The Fantasy in c-minor is also a late composition.
Handel seems to have been very fond of writing sets of Variations on a given "air" or melody, and included several in his Harpsichord Suites published in 1720. The "Harmonious Blacksmith" Variations (not recorded here, but hear them on BMC 21) provide a well-known example. The present Air with Variations in B-flat most probably belong to a lost Suite. In our g-minor Suite Handel includes a passacaglia, which being a set of variations on a bass line, is very similar in concept to the Air-with-Variations.
Handel's Organ Concertos originated as entertainment during oratorio intervals, rapidly gaining popularity in their own right. Two sets of Organ Concertos were printed during Handel's lifetime; two others posthumously. The first, entitled 'Six Concertos For the Harpsichord or Organ' was announced in the London Daily Post dated 4 October 1738. The title page included the statement: "These Six Concertos were Published by Mr. Walsh from my own Copy Corrected by my Self, and to Him only I have given my Right therein. George Frederick Handel." The concerto given here is No 1 in g-minor, from Opus 4 (the first set). An organ comparison can be heard on BMC 5.
These concertos, being marketed as published scores, were offered as concertos for harpsichord or organ, no doubt to gain as wide a public as possible. The keyboard part is without pedal, though organists having pedalboards normally add pedals, properly reflecting Handel's innate love of the Grand Sound. Here however, Ms Marlowe treats us to a performance on the harpsichord, proving that this instrument in the right hands can be every bit as impressive as the organ.
Pioneer and Grande Dame of the Harpsichord
Biography and photos