Music For All Seasons

The good people at Divine Art Records are ever coming up with new and off-beat offerings, as is one of their latest albums: Beyond the River God , an imaginative collection of six extended pieces for harpsichord by the British composer Graham Lynch, which are interspersed in this recording with a handful of short pieces by Francois Couperin.

20th and 21st century compositions for the harpsichord, the delicate instrument for which so many great 16th and 17th century composers wrote are few and far between: Poulenc, de Falla, Rodrigo… The instrument for which Bach and Handel and Rameau and Scarlatti wrote such glorious music has been unfairly consigned mostly to play continuo in Early Music ensembles and little else. So it is with open arms and ears that one welcomes this fascinating album as an important addition to one’s music library.

Opening with the Fifth Prelude from the French master’s The Art of Playing the Harpsichord and following throughout the program with three more compositions of his, culled from the 2nd, 23rd and 27th Ordres de clavecin , the Finnish harpsichordist Assi Karttunen is the peerless interpreter of this centuries-old music. She is an ever assured yet conservative musician, neither erring on the side of caution nor overplaying the ornamentation. Her touch is definitive and her phrasing elegant.

The music of Graham Lynch is pensive, anchored in 20th century harmonies, clearly tonal but unpredictably disobedient of any academic tenets. In the title composition, Lynch uses a Rondeau-Couplet-Rondeau-Couplet-Rondeau structure that subtly echoes the 17th century, but with its roots deeply grounded in our time. The results are effective and charming, greatly enhanced by the impeccable musicianship, musicality and technique of Ms. Karttunen.

In Admiring Yoro Waterfall , Lynch, inspired by a Hokusai watercolor, uses stasis juxtaposed to motion to evoke the stillness and the flow of water, creating a contemplative, hypnotic effect redolent of Japanese music.

In Petenera Lynch finds his inspiration in the Andalucian world of Federico Garcia Lorca. Dividing the composition into four distinct sections: Bell, The Six Strings, Dance and De Profundis , the effects Lynch elicits from the harpsichord are magical, alternating bell-like sounds, cantejondo riffs, cluster chords and arpeggios, the rhythmic drive of a folk dance, and a deeply spiritual chant-like processional passage.

In Ay! the music becomes moody, harmonically vague, hesitating between major and minor modes, all to superb effect.

In Present-Past-Future-Present and in Secret Prelude Lynch is at his most reflective and personal. The first is a lengthy, seemingly continuous three-part meditation. The closing piece of the CD is Secret Prelude, a disarmingly simple succession of arpeggiated chords with a running time of little over one minute: a both cryptic and provocative ending to a musical journey well worth exploring by any lover of music for the harpsichord.

The album is handsomely packaged and designed by Stephen Sutton, Divine Art Records ‘ heart and soul, with copious liner notes by both the composer and the interpreter, lovingly engineered by Mikko Murtoniemi, produced by Tuuli Lindenberg and impeccably recorded in Helsinki’s Ostersundom Church in June of 2014. Beyond the River God (dda25120) is available from Divine Art Records ) and on digital download from Itunes, Amazon, Classics on Line , and most other providers.

—Rafael de Acha