American Record Guide

Clavichords are notoriously difficult to play well. The player must be in absolute control of touch, first to produce and sustain a good rounded tone, and then to have it be perfectly balanced, and not have it go sharp in pitch by squeezing too hard. The motions are very small, with scarce resistance. Any unevenness of technique shows up quite clearly, as does any indecision. It is especially difficult in fast ornamentation, with a temptation to get louder. Terence Charlston’s performance is miraculous, with everything perfectly in place; yet it does not sound cautious. This is top-level work.

There are no extant French clavichords of this vintage, so Peter Bavington worked from a 1636 drawing by Marin Mersenne to build one. Charlston chose (and, in some cases, arranged) this brilliant program to show what would have been played on it in the 16th and 17th centuries. The result is one of the best clavichord albums I have ever heard.

According to the booklet, Charlston had prepared a lot more music than would fit onto a single disc; may we hope for a second or third volume? The sound, historical essays, photography, and the booklet production are deluxe in every way. There is nothing more to say. If you have any interest in the history of keyboard music, or just want to hear more than an hour of charming and unfamiliar tunes, buy this.

—Bradley Lehman