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Clavichord Recitals
Francis Knights, Linda Nicholson and Peter Sykes

Francis Knights at Quaker Meeting House, Blackheath 1 December 2007

Georg Bohm (1661-1733) Suite No.1 in C minor
Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) Partita sopra 'Alle Menschen mussen sterben'
Johann Adam Reincken (1623-1722) Suite No.1 in C
Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Majesta Ferdinando IV, Re de Romani
Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707) Suite No. 15 in G minor; Toccata in G; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland; Suite No.7 in D minor; Variations from La Capricciosa

A pleasant meeeting of clavichord enthusiasts in a very suitable venue. The pleasures of the convivial afternoon were marred only by the variable hazard of aeroplane noise entering through the square skylight (see illustration). That depends on wind direction; Blackheath was on the flight path to Heathrow that day !

The Friends' Meeting House is an unusual building with an octagonal room which has wood panelling that gathers and concentrates the fragile sound of this quietest of instruments, magnifying it if you st at the back, as I discovered after the interval.

Francis Knights' recital was designed to celebrate Buxtehude's tercentenary and to put him into context with other German composers of the period whose revival in the late 19th C resulted from exploration of historical sources of J S Bach's historical style. Of these, most striking in the first half was the almost-centenarian Reincken, whose suite was a welcome work new to me.

The generous Buxtehude selection included a chosen few of his Aria and 32 variations La Capricieuse, which prompted Bach to counter with his 32 Goldberg Variations. They are rarely played complete; Colin Booth has recently recorded twenty of them in a recommended CD release. Knights' choice of a dozen or so was ideal for offering the greatest possible expressive range, and they sounded well on the copy of a Bodechtel/Richter fretted instrument made by Karin Richter in 1986. Maybe sometime we should hear the entirety (some 40 mins) together with the Goldbergs; not too long for a concert?

Francis Knights and I both attended The Lute Society's quarterly meeting the previous weekend; aperformance of one piece on amplified lute there brought thoughts about whether the latest technology has by now advanced to a point where some discrete enhancement might be sensibly introduced at clavichord recitals without offending the purists?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Linda Nicholson

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-88) Sonata in A minor (Wq. 49), Württemberg; Variations on La Follia (Wq. 118/9)
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Sonata in B flat major (Hob. XVI/2)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) Capriccio (K. 395)

Art Workers' Guildhall, Queen Square, London WC1, 20 March 2010

This recital was very well attended, some fifty listeners nearly filling the hall. Far back from the road, the only disturbances were the inevitable mobile phone, a second interruption making for a re-start...

Linda Nicholson, an accomplished performer on old keyboard instruments, brought her own magnificent 1767 Hass clavichord, a large instrument with a full tone. which sounded splendid in the historic surroundings of the Art Workers' Guild (no need to be thinking about amplification that afternoon) !

Derek Adlam, with venerable portraits all round, pointed out to us the names of worthies including Arnold Dolmetsch's and gave us hints of the incomplete history of a group of these special instruments brought to London whilst Handel was living here.

Linda Nicholson's good taste and virtuosity were on display in this intriguing programme. Particularly engaging was a brilliant Mozart Capriccio, quite a rarity, which can be heard on a delightful CD received recently, Siegbert Rampe on harpsichord, clavichord & fortepiano; Complete Mozart Clavier Works Vol.11 [MDG 341 1311-2].

Peter Sykes
at the AGM of the British Clavichord Society

Art Workers' Hall,
Queen Square, London WC1, 21 May 2011

Image of Peter Sykes playing a Froberger Toccata at the Lizard Lounge
(from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnBkq3K9zpE) - enjoy!

This was a magnificent recital making for a revelatory experience, from a distinguished harpsichordist and academic who is President of the Boston Clavichord Society, USA.

The audience of c.70 nearly filled the gorgeous hall (pictured above, empty) and listened in silence through quite long pieces, and not a one who'd prefer some amplification... perish the thought - heresy to even think of it ! The collective intimacy was something precious to remember.

The programme consisted mainly of music from times when most composers had, or had access to, clavichords and each of these works proved highly suitable to it, most surprisingly the substantial Bach violin sonata and the profound Beethoven Largo e mesto.

Sykes had the ability to stress as required rhythmically and within a narrow bracket to produce an illusion of great dynamic range. He finished with a compelling account of the great Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, the latter in only three voices which made it ideal for the instrument, a superb and perfectly prepared Karen Richter of 1998.

Peter Sykes is a man of the 21st century too; he enthused about his electronic equipment; a slender iPad, upon which he had stored all the music for his tour - much of it in facsimile editions from the originals - and he showed us how he uses one of his unoccupied feet (the clavichord has no pedals) by turning the pages with an AirTurner.

My illustration is from a really delightful video of Peter Sykes contentedly playing Froberger in a relaxed environment above a buzz of quiet conversation; just like a jazz pub gig - "superb - particularly cool that it happened at the Lizard Lounge" (Cambridge Mass).

Peter Sykes will be playing "the smallest clavichord and the largest harpsichord" at Fenton House, Hampstead Village next Thursday evening.

Peter Grahame Woolf

PS Peter Sykes' lightning tour of Southern England (Hampstead, Guildford & Bath) after the inspirational event reviewed above, has received acclimation wherever he played, including regret and surprise the he has not yet made a clavichord CD or DVD.

That is shared by his record company, with whom he has a substantial organ dscography, so hopefully the lack will be rectified in due course with a clavichord CD or - better - DVD?

Meanwhile, by way of "consolation prize", they have sent me a recording by one of Peter's pupils, Andrus Madsen, including two Pachelbel suites played on clavichord - a double-disc (two for the price of one) which I recommend heartily [Raven Recordings - OAR-919]