Harpsichord News

November 1, 2010

Larry Palmer is harpsichord editor of THE DIAPASON.


Unusual scales at a recording session
We’ve heard tell of “June bugs caught in a screen door” or “skeletons copulating on a tin roof” as descriptive terms for the sound of the harpsichord, but a three-foot-long snake rattling at a recording session is a first in your harpsichord editor’s experience. And scary, for one who is just a few degrees shy of complete ophidiophobia! [In case the term is unfamiliar, it means “one who is irrationally afraid of snakes.”]

Fortunately for composer-harpsichordist Asako Hirabayashi, a member of her support team at the quiet, congregation-less St. Bridget’s Church in rural Johnson County, Iowa, was tuner David Kelzenberg, who has been known to provide housing for various reptiles (as well as the occasional traveling harpsichordist) at his own lodging in Iowa City. With Dave to capture the percussive interloper (discovered dozing in a window sill), all ended well, and the absolute quiet required for the recording session was restored.
The resulting compact disc, The Harpsichord in the New Millennium, is a highly recommended addition to the collection of new music for and with harpsichord. Hirabayashi, a superb player, is also a gifted creator of music. Her Sonatina No. 2 for Harpsichord was awarded the audience prize at the 2004 Aliénor Competition. Hearing it again on this disc reminds one why.
Several works for fortepiano and harpsichord duo (with Gail Olszewski as the fine fortepianist) are captivating pieces for this rare combination. Among my favorites is a Tango that already intrigues as a possible candidate for transcription and performance on two harpsichords.
However, to these ears the most ingratiating and beautiful pieces from this compilation of Hirabayashi’s recent works are those for violin and harpsichord (played with panache by the composer and Gina DiBello, principal second violinist of the Minnesota Orchestra), especially the Suite for Children (five charming miniatures with a total duration of 71⁄2 minutes), a stunning Fandango (slightly more than three minutes), and the clever Street Music (almost four minutes).
The sonically superior recording by Peter Nothnagle is rattle-free; total time just under 71 minutes; Albany Troy compact disc 1180 (www.albanyrecords.com). For scores, contact the composer at [email protected].

Comments and news items are always welcome. Address them to Dr. Larry Palmer, Division of Music, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275. E-mails to [email protected].

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