The Classical Reviewer

Terence Charlston is a performer, teacher and academic researcher, specialising in early keyboard instruments who founded the Department of Historical Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in 1995. His latest recording for Divine Art Records is entitled Mersenne’s Clavichord . Not one example of an original French clavichord survives, therefore the instrument played on this historically important recording is a new construction following the specifications published by Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) in the 17th century. It is, therefore, the only example of how early French keyboard music may have actually sounded.

It was Peter Bavington who decided, in 2010, to attempt a reconstruction of a clavichord depicted and described by Marin Mersenne. Mersenne’s precise and detailed description and accompanying engraving of a manicordion was published in the 1630s. The design is strikingly different from that of most surviving clavichords that date from much later. By comparison, Mersenne’s clavichord was much larger than a typical late seventeenth or eighteenth-century instrument. Terence Charlston demonstrates this fine instrument with a recital of French works from the 16th and 17th centuries as well as a toccata by Sweelinck whose music was prevalent in France at the time. Many of the pieces are especially arranged for clavichord by Charlston.

Terence Charlston divides his recital into three eras starting with The Sixteenth Century and Antoine de Févin’s (c. 1470-1511/12) Sancta Trinitas. What a wonderfully distinctive sound this clavichord makes. Charlston brings some lovely phrasing and clarity to the musical lines as well as an intimacy, aided very much by the ideal recording. Harmonies are lovely as this fine piece makes its way forward to a lovely simple coda with a sudden chord to end.

An anonymous Prelude sur chacun ton finds Charlston allowing space for this attractive piece to unfold naturally, bringing such fine musicality. Longtemps y a que je vis en espoire is another anonymous work with some lovely, quite delicious timbres drawn by Charleston from this instrument. La Magdalena is possibly by lutenist Pierre Blondeau (fl. 1st half of the 16th century) . Charlston brings terrific, buoyant and fine textured playing to this irresistible piece. He adds some lovely individual touches through its varying tempi and rhythms. Placed together are an anonymous Prelude followed by a Fantasie by Guillaume Costeley (1530/31-1606) and Nicolas Gombert’s (c. 1495-c. 1560) Hors Envyeux . This fine musician brings a lovely flow to these highly attractive pieces with such a variety of textures.

There is a lovely La Bounette , again by an anonymous hand, with Charlston bringing a remarkable agility together with fine phrasing and clarity in another fine melody. Gamba Gagliarda – Moneghina Gagliarda is attributed to Antoine Gardane (1509-1569) and allows this artist to conjure up some fine harmonies with a subtle rhythmic pulse. Also placed together are Pierre Megnier’s Prelude and organist Jacques Cellier’s ( f. 1580-1590. died c.1620) Pavane where lovely light textures are allied to a variety of fine timbres in the Prelude with some terrific intricate passages in the Pavane.

We then move to The Early Seventeenth Century for the next part of this recital with five pieces, a finely pointed up Canaries, a lively Borree with fine, subtle tonal variations , a rhythmic Volte appellee la Marcielleze, a beautifully laid out Pavane de Aranda and a lovely Fantasie sur l’air de ma Bergerer Fantasie to conclude, full of fine textures and sonorities. Charles Racquet (1597-1664) was organist at Notre Dame Cathedral. His Fantaisie moves forward with a measured pace winding its way through some lovely moments in this fine outpouring of invention. Tu Crois, O Beau Soleil brings some really lovely textures and sonorities, Charlston providing such a fine touch, revealing many subtleties. In Mercure d’Orléans’ (fl c1590. died: c.1619) Praeludium Charlston reveals some very fine sonorities right across the keyboard with a lively Volte brilliantly played to conclude.

Four Preludes by anonymous composers are placed together, a beautifully paced slow Prelude bringing out many fine textures, a gentle Prelude that is beautifully shaped, a rhythmically pointed Prelude that nevertheless reveals itself slowly and gently and a slightly livelier rhythmically poised Prelude.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s (1562-1621) Toccata in C Major is very fine with much variety throughout its length, Charlston finding some terrific timbres from his instrument. Five pieces are gathered together next; three anonymous works – a rhythmic Bergamasca, a lively Gavotte, most attractive with some terrific playing and a lovely light textured Courante, ‘La Chabotte’ together with a leisurely Hereaux Séjour e Partenisse by Antoine Boësset (1586-1643) bringing lovely light sonorities and a crisp Bransle, ‘Les Frondeurs’ by Germain Pinel ( c. 1600-1661). To end the Early Seventeenth Century period there is a wonderfully done Echo in F Major by a certain Gérard Scronx , apparently a scribe at a monastery in Liege. Charlston brings such care and exquisite control with an echo of the theme played softer and quieter. This is a rather memorable piece, beautifully developed.

The Later Seventeenth Century opens with Jean-Henri D’Anglebert’s (1635-1691) Prelude from his Pièces de clavecin, Suite No. 3 in D Minor a slowly unfolding piece that is wonderfully phrased, achieving some quite lovely timbres. French composer and harpsichordist Jacques Champion or Jacques Champion Chambonnieres (1601/02-1672) was also known as Sieur de Chambonnieres or Mr Chambonnieres (his family name being Champion). His Sarabande in A minor is finely paced, a lovely work that slowly reveals its attractions with Charlston revealing lovely little details.

A lively Duo by Louis Couperin (c. 1626-1661) follows, weaving two musical lines with this fine keyboard player finding a lovely clarity and flow. There is a slow, gently paced Recit à trois by Nicholas Gigault (c. 1627-1707) where Charleston allows the music and, indeed, this instrument to reveal some lovely timbres. Finally there is Nicolas-Antoine Lebègue’s (c. 1631-1702) Laissez paistre vos Bestes , a lively, rhythmically sprung work with Charlston bringing some terrific timbres from his instrument showing just how he can find a variety of sounds.

This is a remarkably entrancing disc. Charlston extracts so many fine sounds, lovely sonorities and ear catching timbres from this remarkable instrument.

This is a terrific survey of French music of the 16 th and 17 th century refracted through an instrument of many fascinating and attractive qualities. The recording is ideal; the microphones set perfectly with much detail and intimacy. There are excellent detailed notes by Terence Charlston as well as a beautifully produced and illustrated booklet full of facsimiles of the music and photos of the instrument.

It is terrific that Divine Art continues to bring us such treasures as this.

—Bruce Reader