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Elizabeth Anderson plays Harpsichord
Elizabeth Anderson > reviews > Bizarre or baRock MD3179

Bizarre or baRock

Elizabeth Anderson - Harpsichord

Move MD3179

Every so often a gal’s got to let her hair down, right? Australian harpsichordist Elizabeth Anderson has certainly done that - on the booklet cover she is garbed as Morticia Addams, long hair and all, seated in the trademark high-back wicker chair. On the back cover, there’s a photo of Anderson (Morticia) cutting off the heads of flowers! Of course, there have been as many such “wild and crazy” harpsichord discs over the years, but no matter how good the playing, they rise and fall on the choice of the music. I’m sorry to say that too many harpsichord recitals of this kind suffer from largely forgettable music, not the sort of stuff you want to hear more than once. Although Elizabeth Anderson’s program is somewhat variable, thankfully there is enough music of quality to hold one’s interest. And it certainly helps that she is one hell of a harpsichordist.

The title of this CD is rendered Bizarre or baRock on the booklet – since every Fanfare reviewer has sworn a blood oath to uphold the magazine’s nefarious orthographic standards, I was forced to spell the title with all the caps in the headnote. The point of departure and inspiration for this CD is the word “baroque” (present –day spelling); the way it was used in the 1700’s, the word meant “bizarre, coarse, uncouth,” even “corrupt”. At least that’s the etymological history outlined in the booklet, somewhat questionable in my view, since barocco was basically a positive epithet. The pieces were therefore chosen for their display of this characteristic; some contain a heavy dose of “baRock”, even an overdose, some hardly at all.

The CD opens with two arresting numbers by William Palmer, Ragtime and Blues, both with added percussion and double bass – the second features a wild improvisational passage by Anderson. The next number, Asturias of Albeniz, is surprisingly atmospheric and effective; perhaps it is the suggestion of the guitar, by way of the piano original, that works so well on harpsichord. Three short, “normal” harpsichord pieces follow: the C-Minor Prelude from Book 1 of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, The Lyre of Orpheus of Dandrieu, and The Cuckoo of Daquin. Two contemporary Australian pieces by Mary Mageau and Lawrence Whiffin come next; these fall, I’m afraid, into the “eminently forgettable” category.

The most remarkable composer on this CD is the one whose works you’ll never hear on a typical harpsichord program. Don Angle (1943-2008) was the rarest of birds: a jazz harpsichordist and arranger whose keyboard style broke new ground for the instrument. If you had occasion to visit the William Dowd harpsichord shop in the 60’s through the 80’s, you would have met the affable Angle, who held forth as Dowd’s chief voicer. As I recall, Don had some sort of speech impediment that made communicating with him difficult. But he had no trouble at all communicating through his music. The three pieces by Don Angle included here- one original titled Chocolate Bunnies and arrangements of Lennon – McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby and Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm – are infectiously joyful and energetic.

Two not-quite-contemporary pieces follow: Hungarian Rock of Ligeti, and William Albright’s Fancy No. IV (“Danza ostinata”). The Ligeti work is surprisingly tonal, but at six minutes it is about twice as long as it needs to be. Not so with the Albright piece; the nonstop rhythmic and harmonic ostinato and brilliant passagework are truly mesmerizing.

The program continues with one piece by Purcell (A New Ground) and Handel (Variations on “The Harmonious Blacksmith”), the aforementioned Eleanor Rigby arrangement, the Batalha of Conceicao (this one gets the prize for “wild and crazy”), Nine Rarebits by Earle Brown (another contemporary Australian piece that leaves me cold), and two Scarlatti sonatas (K 717 and 175). The jaunty Don Angle arrangement of I Got Rhythm is a fitting conclusion.

I was very glad to make the acquaintance of harpsichordist Anderson, who has four previous CDs on the Move label to her credit, including a recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. This is highly proficient, no-nonsense playing that is guaranteed to get your fingers a snappin’ and your toes a tappin’. She plays a terrific-sounding harpsichord (maker unknown) that manages to hold its own in the ensemble numbers with drums and bass. The recorded sound is visceral and real – much of the delight in listening to this CD comes from the sheer impact of the sound. I never thought I’d use the word “visceral” to describe a harpsichord recording, but there it is. What fun-a candidate for this year’s Want List for sure.

Christopther Brodersen, Fanfare Magazine, May 2011

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