The Classical Reviewer

Thuringia is a federal state of Germany set right at the heart of Germany with beautiful countryside and cities and a great history and culture. It is an area with strong links to Goethe, Schiller, Liszt, Wagner, Gropius and Feininger as well as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) who was born in Eisenach. Saxony is a federal state of Germany, bordering Thuringia and also having a great natural beauty, a rich historical and cultural landscape and particularly linked to George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) who was born in Halle.

Combine music from the early years of these two composers with music they may have heard in their youth; add a copy, by David Evans, of a lovely old Thuringian harpsichord dating from c. 1715 and you have the basis for a very interesting recital.

This is exactly what harpsichordist, Terence Charlston has done on a new release from Divine Art Recordings entitled The Harmonious Thuringian .

David Evans’ instrument is a single manual harpsichord, a 2010 copy of an anonymous Thuringian harpsichord c. 1715 in the Eisenach Bachhaus, Eisenach, Germany . This new CD gives full details of compass, pitch and temperament of this fine instrument.

Terence Charlston is an early keyboard player, chamber musician, choral and orchestral director, teacher and academic researcher. As a harpsichord and organ soloist he has toured worldwide. His repertoire spans music from the 16th century to the present day, reflecting an interest in keyboard music of all types and styles.

He was a member of London Baroque from 1995 until 2007 and is a member of the ensemble, Florilegium as well as being a member of The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments.

Charlston has performed on a large number of recordings playing harpsichord, organ, virginals, clavichord and fortepiano. He founded the Department of Historical Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in 1995 and in September 2007 he was invited to join the staff of the Royal College of Music, London as professor of harpsichord. He is International Visiting Tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Terence Charlston opens this new recording with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 (c. 1706-1710) written around the time he would have been in either Arnstadt, Mühlhausen or Weimar, all Thuringian towns. Charlston brings a beautifully phrased flow to the opening of Toccata followed by some finely structured passages in the second half. In the Fugue he pushes forward with the musical lines very finely drawn.

We move from Bach to a contemporary, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1656-1746) sometime Kapellmeister to Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden and represented here by his Suite VIII in G major. The Prelude has some beautifully florid passages with exceptionally fine playing from Charlston and a lovely, finely detailed Chaconne with, again, this player allowing the lines to clearly flow.

Louis Marchand (1669-1732) was a French Baroque organist, harpsichordist, and composer some of whose organ works were lauded as classics of the French organ school and may well have been heard by Bach and Handel. Deep resonant sounds are drawn from this fine harpsichord as his Prelude in D minor unfolds; a really attractive piece that moves around considerably as the theme is worked out.

Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725) is represented here by his Passacaglia in D minor. Krieger was the elder brother of Johann Krieger featured below, both being musicians from a Nuremberg family. His Passacaglia opens with a series of slow chords before developing. Charlston is a sensitive musician who knows just how to extract beautiful sounds from such a piece. The piece has an affecting, simple rising and falling theme that is, nevertheless, developed in an attractive and skilful manner with some unusual, repeated phrases towards the end, as well as some beautifully florid passages.

We return to the great Bach with his Fantasia in G minor, BWV 917. In many ways a quintessentially Bachian piece it receives a really fine performance with a great flow and clarity of line.

With Johann Krieger’s (1651-1735) Ich dich hab ich gehoffet Herr the different musical lines could prove problematic in some hands but not here, where Charlston beautifully contrasts the two lines as the music is developed.

Christian Ritter (1645/1650-1717) is believed to have been a pupil of Christoph Bernhard in Dresden. He is thought to have later been Kammerorganist in Halle in 1666 before, later, moving to Sweden. His Allemande in descessum Caroli xi Regis sveciae is very attractive, nicely developed, unfolding naturally for all its intricacies.

Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) was the eldest son of Heinrich Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach’s great uncle. Born at Arnstadt, he was organist at Eisenach and later a member of the court chamber orchestra there. His Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV Anh.177 has a Prelude as fine as any by J. S. Bach, with richly decorated passages finely played by Charlston. There follows a beautifully paced Fugue , revealing its fine invention as it is allowed to unfold.

The fast Fugue in C minor that follows, full of attractive invention during its short duration, is an anonymous work attributed to Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), another composer born in Nuremberg, brilliantly played by Charlston.

The Italian composer, Tarquino Merula’s (1594/95-1665) organ works would have been in general circulation during the 17 th century. His Capriccio Cromatico Capriccio…perle semi tuoni opens on a rising scale which the left hand continues under a right hand motif. This is then developed with Charlston’s fine musical clarity and sensitivity.

Johann Sebastian Bach is again represented by the Prelude from his Prelude and Fugue in A major, BWV 896 (c.1709). This tiny little piece receives an exquisite performance.

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712) was born in Halle, going on to be Kantor and organist of Halle’s Market Church, the church where Handel was baptised. He was Handel’s teacher in Halle. Charlston gives Zachow’s Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland a stature that perhaps wouldn’t normally emerge in the way he develops the ideas, thus adding a degree of depth.

Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) was, like Handel, a Saxony born composer. Charlston produces unusual timbres from his harpsichord in the Prelude, a really unusual piece where a single theme is simply worked out.

Finally we come to George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) with his Suite No.5 in E minor, HWV 430 from his Eight Suites de Pieces HWV 426-433 (1720). Though Handel was in London by 1710, leaving Halle in 1703 and Hamburg in 1706 to travel to Italy, these works were surely assembled for publication from works written earlier.

Charlston brings a fine breadth and spaciousness to the Prelude with a terrific display of virtuosity in the florid coda. There is a flowing Allemande with Charlston bringing out all the intricacies of this piece. The Courante has a lovely ebb and flow, with finely played little details before the Air and Variations, better known as ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’. For all its popularity it is a fine piece and gets a terrific performance here.

There are some extremely interesting and attractive works on this new disc from composers probably not heard of by most listeners. David Evans’ fine instrument adds much to Terence Charlston’s excellent performances. The CD booklet is up to Divine Art’s usual high standards with colour photographs, including one of the instrument, excellent notes by Terence Charlston together with details of the harpsichord including pitch and temperament.

—Bruce Reader