Reviews

GMCD 7232 – Masterworks for Clavichord by Bach

Derek Adlam – Clavichord

To the CD in our Shop


The British Clavichord Society February 02

Many readers will, like me, have been eagerly awaiting the release of this CD. As President of our Society, Derek Adlam needs no introduction to members, and his recitals, at home and abroad, have built him a reputation as a mature and sophisticated performer. On this CD Derek has recorded works he has presented at a number of venues in recent years, including Edinburgh in 2000. With the exception of two works probably written for the Lautenwerk, the works are all from Bach’s formative years, all the more welcome as most of them are seldom heard today.

Derek uses a clavichord based on the 1763 Hass (Russell Collection, Edinburgh) which he made himself in 1982, strung in brass at a pitch of a1=405 Hz. The tuning is Young No. 2, which allows a wide range of keys to be visited but retains the sense of key and chord colour.

The recording was made in the Priory Church of Our Lady and St Cuthbert in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, although the acoustic of the church is not particularly evident from the recording, suggesting that the microphones have been positioned quite close to the instrument. The clavichord has a clear, fundamental, uncluttered sound, making it particularly suitable to the intricacies of this music, and is very well balanced throughout its compass. The four-foot strings in the bass do what they should, namely add clarity to the note without being obtrusive. The instrument is particularly well matched to the Lautenwerk pieces (BWV 996 and 998), which are generally low-pitched, so the right hand is generally exploiting the flutey area from middle C to c2.

Derek’s playing of these pieces is mature and thoughtful, as one would expect, with careful attention to dynamics and articulation. For those who enjoy detail, there are lovely moments, for example the opening of the E minor prelude which springs from a pianissimo low E like a plant from its seed. Derek has clearly thought about tempo relationships within a work, which gives a satisfying sense of unity. My favourites on the CD, after the Lautenwerk suite, are the Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, with its arresting opening and well controlled fugue, and the ‘Albinoni’ Prelude and Fugue which is, for me, the high point of the disk. The fugue is long, but Derek has it in control from beginning to end. The Prelude is Derek at his rhapsodic best, and for my money would have made a better opening to the CD that the Toccata. As I have mentioned in an earlier review (Richard Troeger’s Bach Toccatas disk, BCS Newsletter No. 18, October 2000) there are movements in these typical (sic) harpsichord works which are less satisfactory on the clavichord, and the opening of the G major Toccata is one of them. (Curiously Troeger opens his CD with this movement as well – perhaps I’m missing something!) The lyrical second movement more than makes up for it, however. The Capriccio is pure clavichord music, and Derek’s realization of the Lamento, with its sections of figured bass, is most convincing.

There is one technical hiccup in the production of the CD, which I can’t imagine is exclusive to my copy. The beginning of track 14 has been misplaced, with the result that the Sarabande in the Lautenwerk Suite starts at the end of track 13, which is assigned to the Courante. This makes no difference to your listening pleasure, however, unless you wish to isolate the Sarabande.

Derek’s public performance of this programme included the four Duetti from the Clavierübung, which sadly do not appear on the CD. Perhaps they are being saved for a further release – they are long, it is true, and apart from the Toccata, I would have had difficulty to know what to leave out to make place for them.

The booklet contains concise and well-informed notes on the music, a comprehensive CV of Derek and a fairly lengthy explanation of the mechanics of the clavichord. I felt the latter was somewhat unnecessary at this stage of the clavichord’s revival, but it does include a justification for its use in J. S. Bach’s music.

The CD is enjoyable and to be recommended, and, unlike some clavichord recordings, should be easily available, either via Guild Music (PO Box 5092, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1FN), from the distributor, Priory Records (3 Eden Count, Eden Way, Leighton Buzzard, LU7 8FY; tel. 01525 377566; fax 01525 371477) or from the BCS Bookshop.


The Organ No. 319  February – April 2002-04-02

Derek Adlman became interested in all manner of early keyboard instruments from childhood, learning to play the harpsichord as a student, later discovering the secrets of restoring instruments and eventually becoming curator and restorer of the CF Colt Collection. In 1971 he joined Richard Burnett at Finchcock’s, later moving to the Harley Foundation’s art and crafts workshop at Wellbeck, Nottinghamshire. He is now President of the British Clavichord Society, is in demand as a recitalist, many of which are given on the clavichord he made in 1982, a copy of the 1763 Haas in the Russel Collection, Edinburgh and which is used in this recording The Masterworks for Clavichord” on this disc are all from Bach’s earlier years, in a period when the clavichord was certainly well used by organists as a home practice instrument – no cold churches and no emolument for the organ blower! We now live in an age of noise, and the richness of sounds emitted by the clavichord in the hands of an experienced player are a treasure we can appreciate all-the more by listening carefully to Derek Adlam’s exquisite playing, excellently recorded in the Priory Church of Our Lady and St. Guthbert Worksop.
DRC


Early Music News No. 266 – February 2002

Derek Adlam, playing a clavichord made by him after Johann Adolph Hass, makes an excellent complement to Terence Charlston (Deux-Elles DXL 1017): he too includes pieces written for the lute (or for the Lautenwerk, a harpsichord with gut rather than metal strings). The only overlapping piece is the G major Prelude and Fughetta, where Adlam is easier on the ear with his more relaxed tempo. The Toccata in G, BWV 916, is a companion to the D major Toccata on Charlston’s disc. The “Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother” is another multi-sectional work: chromatic in places and with a gentle wit in the last two movements, where Bach imitates the octave drop of a posthorn.

In the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat, BWV 998, the clavichord makes a very acceptable substitute for the lute. The Suite in E minor, BWV 996, is less successful, the thicker texture producing an unpleasingly muddy effect. All is forgiven, though, for the Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904: Bach is on top Protestant form in the working-out of the fugue, and Adlam’s steady, inexorable performance is equally superb. The Fugue in B minor on a theme by Albinoni is preceded by a Prelude, BWV 923: whether or not it is by Bach, it its quasi-improvisatory sweep it is well worth hearing. This is a fine recording, let down only by discrepancies in the track numbering.


Wednesday, 27 February 2002 British Clavichord Society Newsletter, No. 22 February 2002 (ISSN 1359-5105)

Many readers will, like me, have been eagerly awaiting the release of this CD. As President of our Society, Derek Adlam needs no introduction to members, and his recitals, at home and abroad, have built him a reputation as a mature and sophisticated performer. On this CD Derek has recorded works he has presented at a number of venues in recent years, including Edinburgh in 2000. With the exception of two works probably written for the Lautenwerk, the works are all from Bach’s formative years, all the more welcome as most of them are seldom heard today.

Derek uses a clavichord based on the 1763 Hass (Russell Collection, Edinburgh) which he made himself in 1982, strung in brass at a pitch of a1=405 Hz. The tuning is Young No. 2, which allows a wide range of keys to be visited but retains the sense of key and chord colour.

The recording was made in the Priory Church of Our Lady and St Cuthbert in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, although the acoustic of the church is not particularly evident from the recording, suggesting that the microphones have been positioned quite close to the instrument. The clavichord has a clear, fundamental, uncluttered sound, making it particularly suitable to the intricacies of this music, and is very well balanced throughout its compass. The four-foot strings in the bass do what they should, namely add clarity to the note without being obtrusive. The instrument is particularly well matched to the Lautenwerk pieces (BWV 996 and 998), which are generally low-pitched, so the right hand is generally exploiting the flutey area from middle C to c2.

Derek’s playing of these pieces is mature and thoughtful, as one would expect, with careful attention to dynamics and articulation. For those who enjoy detail, there are lovely moments, for example the opening of the E minor prelude which springs from a pianissimo low E like a plant from its seed. Derek has clearly thought about tempo relationships within a work, which gives a satisfying sense of unity. My favourites on the CD, after the Lautenwerk suite, are the Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, with its arresting opening and well controlled fugue, and the ‘Albinoni’ Prelude and Fugue which is, for me, the high point of the disk. The fugue is long, but Derek has it in control from beginning to end. The Prelude is Derek at his rhapsodic best, and for my money would have made a better opening to the CD that the Toccata. As I have mentioned in an earlier review (Richard Troeger’s Bach Toccatas disk, BCS Newsletter No. 18, October 2000) there are movements in these typical (sic) harpsichord works which are less satisfactory on the clavichord, and the opening of the G major Toccata is one of them. (Curiously Troeger opens his CD with this movement as well – perhaps I’m missing something!) The lyrical second movement more than makes up for it, however. The Capriccio is pure clavichord music, and Derek’s realization of the Lamento, with its sections of figured bass, is most convincing.

There is one technical hiccup in the production of the CD, which I can’t imagine is exclusive to my copy. The beginning of track 14 has been misplaced, with the result that the Sarabande in the Lautenwerk Suite starts at the end of track 13, which is assigned to the Courante. This makes no difference to your listening pleasure, however, unless you wish to isolate the Sarabande.

Derek’s public performance of this programme included the four Duetti from the Clavierübung, which sadly do not appear on the CD. Perhaps they are being saved for a further release – they are long, it is true, and apart from the Toccata, I would have had difficulty to know what to leave out to make place for them.

The booklet contains concise and well-informed notes on the music, a comprehensive CV of Derek and a fairly lengthy explanation of the mechanics of the clavichord. I felt the latter was somewhat unnecessary at this stage of the clavichord’s revival, but it does include a justification for its use in J. S. Bach’s music.

The CD is enjoyable and to be recommended, and, unlike some clavichord recordings, should be easily available, either via Guild Music (PO Box 5092, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1FN), from the distributor, Priory Records (3 Eden Count, Eden Way, Leighton Buzzard, LU7 8FY; tel. 01525 377566; fax 01525 371477) or from the BCS Bookshop.
Paul Simmonds


By Kirk McElhearn

Derek Adlam is a keyboard player and instrument maker. On this recording, a selection of Bach’s keyboard works, he plays a clavichord he built himself, which is a copy of an 1763 instrument of by Johann Adolph Hass. Bach’s keyboard music has been recorded on many instruments and in many forms, yet it is only in recent years that clavichord recordings have become more common. Aside from Thurston Dart’s excellent recording of the French Suites, made in the 1960s, only a few recordings of Bach’s music on this instrument have been released. (One notable performer is Richard Troeger, who has embarked on a project to record all of Bach’s keyboard music that can be played on the clavichord. He has already released three recordings.)

The clavichord is an interesting instrument. To quote from the performer’s notes:

“The clavichord’s method of tone production is unlike any other stringed instrument. The strings pass over a bridge glued to a soundboard, and their opposite ends are wrapped in a ribbon of woollen cloth which prevents their vibration. The strings are sounded by metal blades called tangents, driven into the distal ends of the key levers. When a key is depressed, the tangent rises to strike the string and, remaining in contact with it while the finger rests on the key, defines its speaking length like a second bridge. The tangent also isolates the speaking section of the string from the damping material, leaving it free to vibrate. When a key is released and the tangent falls away from the string, the damping fabric can once again stop the string’s vibration.

“What then is the advantage distinguishing the clavichord from the harpsichord? Despite the small sound, a clavichord player can achieve a considerable range of loud and soft tone. This effect was impossible to achieve on any other keyboard instrument by the fingers alone before the invention of the Florentine piano at the end of the 17th century. The clavichord player also is in contact with the string itself, so remains in control of the means of tone production. By varying the pressure, effects (including a vibrato) can be obtained which are achievable only on the clavichord. The instrument takes on some of the characteristic inflections and modulations of the human voice, an ideal instrumentalists have aimed at throughout the history of western music. Its intimacy of tone led to its association with personal expression and philosophical reflection. It became a spiritual confidant and comforter in times of distress.”

Bach’s music does indeed seem right at home on the clavichord. As this recording shows, the tone and colours of this instrument espouse Bach’s melodies and counterpoint perfectly. Adlam’s choice of works is very judicious. The opening Toccata in G major is an exuberant piece that allows the clavichordist to display the wide range of volume the instrument can express. (Although “wide” is a bit of a misnomer on an instrument with such a low overall volume.) The Suite in E minor for Lautenwerk (a keyboard instrument similar to a harpsichord, but strung with gut), a piece usually played on the lute, is a discovery – the sweet, subtle tones of the clavichord shed a new light on this beautiful suite. The masterful Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat major, also for Lautenwerk, is excellent, and the fugue shows just how ideal a clavichord is for playing such contrapuntal works. I wonder how the Art of Fugue would sound on a clavichord…

The only negative comment I have to make about his recording is that Derek Adlam often sounds a bit hurried. Perhaps the short duration of tones on the clavichord incites this, or maybe it is just his desire to fit all of these pieces on one disc. But this is a beautiful recording, and one that many Bach-lovers will appreciate. Furthermore, if you like Bach’s keyboard music but don’t like the sharper sound of the harpsichord, the muted tones of the clavichord might be just what you need to discover.

This fine recording of a selection of Bach’s keyboard works, played on clavichord, is masterfully played on a beautiful-sounding instrument. A definite must for Bach-lovers, and something to discover for those who have never heard the clavichord. I hope Adlam records more on this fine instrument.