Fanfare

Since the pioneering days of Wanda Landowska, Sylvia Marlowe, and Ralph Kirkpatrick, composers have been drawn sporadically to the rarified sounds of the harpsichord. Compared with the piano, however, the harpsichord barely merits a footnote in the history of 20th-century keyboard music. During the first phase of the harpsichord revival, until roughly 1950, composers as diverse as Poulenc, Martinu, Bloch, and Distler were inspired to write concertos and chamber pieces, but relatively little in the way of solo music. Much of the music was unabashedly based on Baroque and Classical models, but clothed in up-to-date harmonies. Beginning with the revival of the historical harpsichord in the 1960s, however, more adventurous music began to be written—in this regard, one thinks of the really “far out” works by Luciano Berio, John Cage, and György Ligeti. Lately, composers have found a more even keel, thanks largely to the work of one woman, Elaine Funaro. Through the auspices of her Alienor Competition, composers have been encouraged and inspired to write more accessible music for the harpsichord. Although to my knowledge he has never been associated with Alienor, the music of London-born Graham Lynch (b.1957) falls squarely in the “audience-friendly” category.

I was glad to make the acquaintance of Lynch’s harpsichord music. Fanfare has mentioned his music once before, in Raymond Tuttle’s 2010 Want List, wherein a disc of flute and piano music was cited. The harpsichord pieces recorded here clearly draw their inspiration from Baroque models, hence Assi Karttunen’s decision to intersperse them with selections from Couperin, but more about that later. The major work on the program is Beyond the River God , a five-movement suite which also gives the CD its title. In it, Graham explores the idea of flux embodied in the famous saying of Heraclitus ( panta rhei —everything flows) and also engages in a kind of dialogue with the French clavicinists by adopting the rondeau/couplet format.

Graham’s compositional style is largely lyrical and contemplative, with a modest amount of what I would call “organic dissonance.” In other words, what dissonance there is arises largely through the use of chromatically altered chords within the chosen tonal centers. There is also a modal flavor much of the time. Lynch likes to engage in motivic interplay and contrast, which gives his typically short pieces a fine sense of balance. Another fascinating piece is the three-movement Present-Past-Future-Present. As you might guess, the “subject matter” (if one can truly say that about a piece of abstract music) deals with the nature of time and mortality.

Finnish harpsichordist Assi Karttunen merited a favorable mention by Barry Brenesal in Fanfare 34:2 for her CD of Rameau and D’Anglebert. Here, her decision to combine snippets of Couperin with the contemporary pieces of Lynch works to a degree, but left me wanting more of the latter—anyone expecting a recital of Baroque music should be forewarned. Aside from that, Karttunen’s playing on this disc is beyond reproach: well ordered, rhythmically flexible, and sensitive. The uncredited harpsichord is sonorous and well balanced, and has been faithfully captured by the recording engineer. Altogether, this is a refreshingly different and satisfying harpsichord recital, one that is warmly recommended.

—Christopher Brodersen