Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

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Lance
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Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

Post by Lance » Tue May 10, 2005 12:28 pm

Mini-Review

The Complete 1950s
Bach Recordings on Archiv
8 CDs, 477.013, mono/stereo
English Suites, French Suites - complete
Goldberg Variations, Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue
Italian Concerto, Four Duets
Partitas complete; French Overture
Concerto for Flute, Violin and Orchestra, BWV 1044
Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1055, 1056
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Ralph Kirkpatrick, harpsichordist
Aurele Nicolet, flute
Rudolf Baumgartner, violin
Festival Strings of Lucerne
Rudolf Baumgartner, conductor

________________________

Given the merger of Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, and Philips, collectors are the ones reaping great benefits in the boxed sets being offered by these labels, sometimes melding works from all three formerly independent labels into one box. This is a true collectors dream to acquire so much of this material (much of it historical now) at rock-bottom prices in impressive transfers with in-depth notes.

I have long enjoyed the art of harpsichordist/pianist Ralph Kirkpatrick, though I was slow to jump on the bandwagon in acquiring his recordings in those early years, produced by DGG/Archiv, and missed probably 90% of it on LP. I did acquire some of his American Columbia LPs of Scarlatti; he also recorded for the Musicraft and Haydn Society, but it is his Archiv (DGG) recordings that brought Kirkpatrick to international fame.

Along with Wanda Landowska, belatedly, Ralph Kirkpatrick is given some credit these days for resurrecting the Early Music movement in the twentieth century. He was a pupil of Landowska (and others) and learned much from her, but the two were often at sword's points in deciding how to present this music authentically, i.e., the kinds of instruments used, ornamentation, etc. Landowska favored the Pleyel instruments built especially for her (to her specifications), which utilized cast-iron frames and 16-foot stops, which some critics felt boomed the music out of reality. Kirkpatrick stuck more to instruments that were copied from originals, using the Dolmetsch/Chickering, Challis, and later those of J. S. Neupert. Kirkpatrick was, in fact, critical of Landowska's "piano influenced" trappings, as annotator Jed Distler points out. Landowska's fame, nonetheless, seemed to win out more internationally, not only because of her rather unique personality, and the manner in which she presented her recitals (lamp next to harpsichord, a rug on the stage, and her ethereal gaze in "communicating" with the masters), but because she did, indeed, resurrect much music that would now be lost. She may be chastised for her larger-than-life performances, but her musicianship and authority of performance is rarely to be questioned.

Kirkpatrick, a Massachusetts-born artist and teacher, is a scholar and performer in the best sense of these words. You can expect to hear truly scholarly performances within these eight discs, all music well known to anyone who loves the music of Bach, and far too much of here to go into detail. What can be said is that one will find standard, orthodox, paradigm-like performances where emphasis is on the music and showmanship is of no importance. The assisting artists of Aurele Nicolet and Rudolf Baumgartner, not to mention the quality of the Lucerne Festival Strings makes the set all the more attractive.

For a price of about $55-$57 for eight discs, this can be considered a great bargain in anybody's book. If you were collecting all the original LPs, you could expect to pay double this amount during the 1950s.
Last edited by Lance on Thu May 12, 2005 10:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by CharmNewton » Wed May 11, 2005 10:35 pm

I have all of these recordings on LP and they sound very fine in that format. The intimacy of the sound he produced is very attractive and his Goldbergs remain a favorite alongside Gould II and Maggie Cole.

Kirkpatrick also recorded the Well Tempered Clavier on both the harpsichord and clovichord. I have the harpsichord recordings and Book I on the clavichord, but I've never seen Book II complete in all my years of collecting. I'm not sure if it was ever released in the U.S.

John

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Post by premont » Sat Jul 30, 2005 5:06 am

[quote="CharmNewton"]
Kirkpatrick also recorded the Well Tempered Clavier on both the harpsichord and clovichord. I have the harpsichord recordings and Book I on the clavichord, but I've never seen Book II complete in all my years of collecting. I'm not sure if it was ever released in the U.S.
John[/quote]

Yes, he recorded for DG Archive in the 50es both parts of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, the Toccatas and BWV 904 and 906 on harpsichord as well as the Inventions, the Sinfonias, the suites BWV 818 and 819 and some small preludes on clavichord. I wonder, why these weren´t rereleased by DG too.

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Post by Ralph » Sat Jul 30, 2005 5:10 am

Lance,

Your review deeply touched my wallet. I will be looking for this set. Thanks again for a very erudite and helpful review.
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Re: Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

Post by C.B. » Sat Jul 30, 2005 6:03 am

Lance wrote:Kirkpatrick stuck more to instruments that were copied from originals, using the Dolmetsch/Chickering, Challis, and later those of J. S. Neupert. Kirkpatrick was, in fact, critical of Landowska's "piano influenced" trappings, as annotator Jed Distler points out.
Sorry, but I have to take issue with the claim that Kirkpatrick's instruments were "copied from originals". As important as he was to the eary years of the harpsichord revival, both in terms of his teaching and his extensive scholarship, Ralph Kirkpatrick often suffered from poor choices when it came to the actual instruments he played and recorded on.

Dolmetsch/Chickering, Challis and Neupert harpsichords are decidedly of the "non-historical" bent, as practically any harpsichordist today will tell you. All three brands, in fact, sported metal frames and heavy cases, along with several other modern "improvements" which adversely affect the sound, such as leather plectra, piano-style keyboards, non-historical barring and scale, and even overspun strings in the bass. For anyone to confuse these brands with true historical copies betrays a singular lack of knowledge of all that has gone on in the world of the historical harpsichord in the past fifty or sixty years.

Kirkpatrick's recordings, therefore, should be auditioned with a "grain of salt". For whatever reason, Kirkpatrick avoided performing on instruments by makers who were interested in re-creating the sound of true historical models (some of whom were close by in his home town of Boston), and instead chose instruments that were thin in the bass, metallic in the treble, and difficient in overall output. The proverbial "jangling box of wire" that earned the harpsichord its bad rep during the early years! This meant that in concertos and ensemble work, for example, the Challises and Neuperts always needed a "boost" from the engineers in the control room, especially since the ensembles in question were invariably made up of modern instruments.

Kirkpatrick's recordings of the major solo keyboard works of Bach no doubt have much to say interpretatively, but personally I have a hard time getting past the actual sound of the instruments he played. Curiously, Kirkpatrick's recordings on clavichord are much more enjoyable (one might say more personal and direct), since the clavichords he played are not compromised in the same way that the harpsichords were.

Listeners are advised to sample the recordings of Gustav Leonhardt, Kenneth Gilbert, Christoph Rousset, Scott Ross and Edward Parmentier (to name just a few) to hear what the full, rich, singing sound of the "real" historical harpsichord, played by artists who understand it thoroughly.
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Re: Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

Post by Lance » Sat Jul 30, 2005 8:55 am

Well, surely the "purists" will not approve the instruments used by Mme. Landowska or Mr. Kirkpatrick. But as all of us know, both were supreme scholarly artists in the best and highest sense of the word. And in the end, we can appreciate their "musicality" in their recordings and performances, which, when both were recording, would use the best instruments available and gave us a sound the might "resemble" (in some way) what might have been heard by the composers, albeit in a more voluminous sound, such as rendered by the Pleyels Landowska used. (I had the opportunity to sit down and run my fingers over one of Landowska's Pleyels in Connecticut.) I don't think Bach would be irritated by this - and in fact he might very well approve of the fact that the preponderance of his keyboard music is performed on the modern concert grand. Since he was a grandmaster at transcribing so much music even by other composers, from violin works to keyboard works, for example, "transcribing" for present-day harpsichords and pianos—they are, after all keyboards—might prove most interesting to composers such as JS Bach or D. Scarlatti.

For many years I have worked on Dowd harpsichords, both single- and double-manual ... these were the lightly strung instruments that had no cast iron frames, but used jacks and the delrin material as the plectra, phosphor-bronze strings in the lower areas of the keyboard and, of course, steel strings on up through the rest of the instrument.

But your comments are well taken, C. B.
C.B. wrote:
Lance wrote:Kirkpatrick stuck more to instruments that were copied from originals, using the Dolmetsch/Chickering, Challis, and later those of J. S. Neupert. Kirkpatrick was, in fact, critical of Landowska's "piano influenced" trappings, as annotator Jed Distler points out.
Sorry, but I have to take issue with the claim that Kirkpatrick's instruments were "copied from originals". As important as he was to the eary years of the harpsichord revival, both in terms of his teaching and his extensive scholarship, Ralph Kirkpatrick often suffered from poor choices when it came to the actual instruments he played and recorded on.

Dolmetsch/Chickering, Challis and Neupert harpsichords are decidedly of the "non-historical" bent, as practically any harpsichordist today will tell you. All three brands, in fact, sported metal frames and heavy cases, along with several other modern "improvements" which adversely affect the sound, such as leather plectra, piano-style keyboards, non-historical barring and scale, and even overspun strings in the bass. For anyone to confuse these brands with true historical copies betrays a singular lack of knowledge of all that has gone on in the world of the historical harpsichord in the past fifty or sixty years.

Kirkpatrick's recordings, therefore, should be auditioned with a "grain of salt". For whatever reason, Kirkpatrick avoided performing on instruments by makers who were interested in re-creating the sound of true historical models (some of whom were close by in his home town of Boston), and instead chose instruments that were thin in the bass, metallic in the treble, and difficient in overall output. The proverbial "jangling box of wire" that earned the harpsichord its bad rep during the early years! This meant that in concertos and ensemble work, for example, the Challises and Neuperts always needed a "boost" from the engineers in the control room, especially since the ensembles in question were invariably made up of modern instruments.

Kirkpatrick's recordings of the major solo keyboard works of Bach no doubt have much to say interpretatively, but personally I have a hard time getting past the actual sound of the instruments he played. Curiously, Kirkpatrick's recordings on clavichord are much more enjoyable (one might say more personal and direct), since the clavichords he played are not compromised in the same way that the harpsichords were.

Listeners are advised to sample the recordings of Gustav Leonhardt, Kenneth Gilbert, Christoph Rousset, Scott Ross and Edward Parmentier (to name just a few) to hear what the full, rich, singing sound of the "real" historical harpsichord, played by artists who understand it thoroughly.
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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premont
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Re: Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

Post by premont » Sat Jul 30, 2005 9:12 am

[quote="C.B."]
Listeners are advised to sample the recordings of Gustav Leonhardt, Kenneth Gilbert, Christoph Rousset, Scott Ross and Edward Parmentier (to name just a few) to hear what the full, rich, singing sound of the "real" historical harpsichord, played by artists who understand it thoroughly.[/quote]

Yes, we should certainly not listen to Kirkpatrick for organological reasons, and even his interpretations are somewhat oldfashioned compared to the abovementioned harpsichordists. Though in my wiew Kirkpatricks interpretations constitute a strong and integrated personal rendering almost beyond criticism, like the interpretations of Helmut Walcha, whom we should not listen to for organological reasons either, but because of the unique character of his playing.

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Re: Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

Post by C.B. » Sat Jul 30, 2005 10:55 am

Lance wrote:Well, surely the "purists" will not approve the instruments used by Mme. Landowska or Mr. Kirkpatrick.
It's ultimately not about "purity" or "authenticity", you know, it's about the music.
Lance wrote:But as all of us know, both were supreme scholarly artists in the best and highest sense of the word. And in the end, we can appreciate their "musicality" in their recordings and performances, which, when both were recording, would use the best instruments available and gave us a sound the might "resemble" (in some way) what might have been heard by the composers, albeit in a more voluminous sound, such as rendered by the Pleyels Landowska used.
Well, that's just the point--the sound does not "resemble" that of historical instruments, not even close. The Pleyel makes a gawd-awful racket, but in the long run has less bass and less carrying power in the hall than nearly any historical harpsichord you care to mention. Worse yet, the Pleyel has no sustaining power (it doesn't "sing"), due to all the metal in the instrument, put there in the mistaken belief that the it will somehow improve the instrument's "reliability" (actually, Pleyels and Neuperts are among the hardest instruments to keep in tune and regulation). The lack of a singing line is the most damaging aspect of the old metal-frame instruments, I think.

Landowska is, for me, a curiosity. Sure, she was a tremendous pioneer who introduced everyone over the age of fifty or so (myself included) to the harpsichord and its music. She was a charismatic performer, a real "star" at a time when the harpsichord needed one, although her importance as a scholar is, I think, overrated. But the ugly sound of her harpsichord remains a stumbling block, and for that reason I fail to see why her recordings should continue to be cited as "touchstones" when so many superior recordings have appeared in the meantime.
Lance wrote:I don't think Bach would be irritated by this - and in fact he might very well approve of the fact that the preponderance of his keyboard music is performed on the modern concert grand.
You could just easily argue for the opposite, that Bach, being as fussy about instruments as he was, wouldn't have tolerated such a huge deviation from his original tonal concept.
Lance wrote:Since he was a grandmaster at transcribing so much music even by other composers, from violin works to keyboard works, for example, "transcribing" for present-day harpsichords and pianos—they are, after all keyboards—might prove most interesting to composers such as JS Bach or D. Scarlatti.
"Transcription" is the right word, because in many cases the use of a grand piano prevents you from playing the music as originally written. Case in point--the Goldberg Variations, where the lack of a contrasting second manual means that many notes must be left out, especially when the hands cross.
Lance wrote:For many years I have worked on Dowd harpsichords, both single- and double-manual ... these were the lightly strung instruments that had no cast iron frames, but used jacks and the delrin material as the plectra, phosphor-bronze strings in the lower areas of the keyboard and, of course, steel strings on up through the rest of the instrument.
Good for you--then at least you've had the chance to hear a good historical copy up close. Dowd was one of America's finest historical builders, widely respected and recorded. The materials used by Dowd that you list are not serious deviations from the traditional and would have no significant impact on the sound--for example, harpsichords were probably already being strung with a mild steel wire as early as the 1600s. But it never hurts to stick to the historical as closely as possible--real quill, although impractical for many harpsichordists, will yield a better sounding "pluck" than delrin, especially for recordings.
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Post by Werner » Sat Jul 30, 2005 5:46 pm

C. B. I note that you acknowledge Landowska's importance as a harpsichord pioneer when the instrument had fallen into almost-oblivion, so you recognize her pioneering accomplishments. On that basis, it seems to me that her work stands out whether or not the instrument she used was or was not what we now see as "authentic." Same goes for Kirpatrick.
Pioneering in bringing the instrument back from oblivion, they used what was available then.

And superb music making, whatever the period, remains memorable. Whether on the harpsichord or the piano Landowska set a standard that needs to be matched by contemporary artists, whatever the instrument. I have not heard enough curent harpsichordists to be able to judge, so this is no denunciation of anybody. But the merits of Landowska and Kirkpatrick are not diminished thereby.
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Post by CharmNewton » Sat Jul 30, 2005 6:48 pm

Werner wrote:C. B. I note that you acknowledge Landowska's importance as a harpsichord pioneer when the instrument had fallen into almost-oblivion, so you recognize her pioneering accomplishments. On that basis, it seems to me that her work stands out whether or not the instrument she used was or was not what we now see as "authentic." Same goes for Kirpatrick.
Pioneering in bringing the instrument back from oblivion, they used what was available then.

And superb music making, whatever the period, remains memorable. Whether on the harpsichord or the piano Landowska set a standard that needs to be matched by contemporary artists, whatever the instrument. I have not heard enough curent harpsichordists to be able to judge, so this is no denunciation of anybody. But the merits of Landowska and Kirkpatrick are not diminished thereby.
I've had problems enjoying Landowska's harpsichord recordings due to the (in my opinion) poor recorded sound. I find her RCA LP recording of the Goldberg Variations unlistenable. I have no problems listening to Kirkpatrick. I like his directness and the crispness of his playing. I wish that Sony (or one of its foreign affiliates) would re-issue his Domenico Scarlatti recordings. Another one for the "when I'm browsing 2nd hand LPs list".

Landowska on the piano is another matter. I've enjoyed her late recordings of Mozart and Haydn. I believe they were her last recordings. Wouldn't it be nice if they were even recorded in stereo--that would be a coup.

John

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Post by Werner » Sat Jul 30, 2005 10:17 pm

I'm afraid the Landowska left the field before stereorecordings reached her. I do have her Goldberg Variations on EMI CDH 10082, and listened to it fairly recently in comparing it to various other "Goldbergs." I did not find the problems you did, but of course I can't guarantee that your reactions and mine would be the same - or that that record is still available.
Werner Isler

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Post by CharmNewton » Sat Jul 30, 2005 11:03 pm

Werner wrote:I'm afraid the Landowska left the field before stereorecordings reached her. I do have her Goldberg Variations on EMI CDH 10082, and listened to it fairly recently in comparing it to various other "Goldbergs." I did not find the problems you did, but of course I can't guarantee that your reactions and mine would be the same - or that that record is still available.
The RCA recording was her second recording of the Goldbergs made c. 1949 while the EMI was made in 1934. It claims to be a "High-Fidelity" recording and perhaps it has better sound that is revealed on my LP, but I find it really hard to get through it. I have her WTC Book I and it is somewhat better in this regards (but still tinny) and her playing is extremely fine.

Her last records were made in her home in around 1957-58, but whether RCA used a stereophonic recorder is anyone's guess, but probably not. As far as I know they haven't been issued on CD in the U.S.--they've probably been out of print for over 40 years here. It would be nice to see them made available again.

John

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Post by Sporkadelic » Sun Jul 31, 2005 11:16 am

Landowska's Goldbergs for RCA Victor are from 1945, before magnetic tape was in common use.

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Re: Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

Post by premont » Sun Jul 31, 2005 12:35 pm

[quote="C.B."]
Dolmetsch/Chickering, Challis and Neupert harpsichords are decidedly of the "non-historical" bent, as practically any harpsichordist today will tell you. All three brands, in fact, sported metal frames and heavy cases,

Kirkpatrick's recordings of the major solo keyboard works of Bach no doubt have much to say interpretatively, but personally I have a hard time getting past the actual sound of the instruments he played.
[/quote]

Are you sure, that the Neupert double-manual harpsichord, model Bach, which Kirkpatrick uses for most of his Archiv-recordings, had a metal frame? I am not, some documentation might be useful.

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Post by C.B. » Sun Jul 31, 2005 12:56 pm

No question about it--read Zuckermann's The Modern Harpsichord for a complete run-down on Neupert and all the other German harpsichord factories, if you have any doubts.

I know this first-hand, because I worked for one, Martin Sassmann in Hueckeswagen, Germany, in the mid-'70s.

I've worked on Neuperts, and not only do they have metal frames, they have metal jacks (with leather plectra) and metal slides and guides! Coupled with the open bottom, exaggerated scaling (compared with historical harpsichords), heavy stringing, including overspun strings in the bass, heavily bushed, piano-style keyboards, heavily cross-barred soundboard, and the infamous "Bach" registration (4' on the upper manual, 16' on the lower--which would have been totally foreign to Bach), this results in an instrument that is as far away from the historical as you can possibly get. And for all that it isn't any more stable in tuning or regulation than a lightly-constructed wood instrument!

The Pleyels, BTW, are very similar in construction.
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premont
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Post by premont » Sun Jul 31, 2005 2:18 pm

[quote="C.B."]No question about it--read Zuckermann's [i]The Modern Harpsichord[/i] for a complete run-down on Neupert and all the other German harpsichord factories, if you have any doubts.
[/quote]

Thanks very much for the information and the reference. The book seems unfortunately to be out of sale at the moment.

dzalman

Post by dzalman » Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:54 pm

CharmNewton wrote:Her [Landowska's] last records were made in her home in around 1957-58, but whether RCA used a stereophonic recorder is anyone's guess, but probably not. As far as I know they haven't been issued on CD in the U.S.--they've probably been out of print for over 40 years here. It would be nice to see them made available again.
Those last recordings (both books of the WTC) were made in the early-mid-'50s, monophonically, have been transferred to CD, and are still available. Here's an article about those performances (which performances I love): http://snipurl.com/gmci
Last edited by dzalman on Sun Jul 31, 2005 6:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.

dzalman

Re: Ralph Kirkpatrick's Bach on DGG/Archiv [8 CDs]

Post by dzalman » Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:59 pm

In regard to Kirkpatrick's harpsichord(s), I have it on firsthand authority that beginning in the '60s he used harpsichords built by William Dowd of Boston exclusively (built entirely of wood, and based on historical models) for all his concert work (he owned four of them), and at least three of his recordings (no, I've heard none of them).

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Post by CharmNewton » Sun Jul 31, 2005 9:57 pm

dzalman wrote:
CharmNewton wrote:Her [Landowska's] last records were made in her home in around 1957-58, but whether RCA used a stereophonic recorder is anyone's guess, but probably not. As far as I know they haven't been issued on CD in the U.S.--they've probably been out of print for over 40 years here. It would be nice to see them made available again.
Those last recordings (both books of the WTC) were made in the early-mid-'50s, monophonically, have been transferred to CD, and are still available. Here's an article about those performances (which performances I love): http://snipurl.com/gmci
Actually her last recordings were music of Haydn and Mozart, most of which was played on the piano. These were issued in two boxed sets of two discs each. They've never been re-issued in the U.S. I have them in a French RCA LP edition (GM 43852), but if you forage in used LP shops you might run across copies. They are quite lovely.

John

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