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Terence Charlston: Froberger, Complete Fantasias and Canzonas

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This is a programme for people who like early music, authentic sounds – and clavichords, of course.

The clavichord was a cross between a harp and piano; Wikipedia says Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII, bought one in 1502. The instrument was popular from the 16th century to the 18th century, particularly in German-speaking lands, Scandinavia, and the Iberian Peninsula. It had fallen out of use by 1850.

Charlston writes in the sleeve notes that he discovered the clavichord used in this recording, a reconstruction of a south German clavichord now in the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum, by chance. It was made by Andreas Hermert in 2009.

Charlston writes: “I was immediately smitten by its remarkable sound, fine decoration, tiny but very responsive keys and action, and its overall clarity and excellent musical response.”

Its maker loaned it to him and he spent a year experimenting with repertoire and playing techniques. Of Froberger’s work, Charlston writes: “A recording on clavichord was clearly needed but until recently I had not come across an instrument which I felt was equal to the task.”

He explains that a clavichord has a small sound and isn’t really a concert instrument, more for practice, but the player can control the dynamic of each note by varying the force and speed of their touch and alter the sounding string after its initiation by changing the pressure on the key. The player can even raise the pitch.

If this all gets you excited, read no further because we have little to say about the actual playing. The instrument is small and delicate in sound. Unlike other instruments the notes don’t seem to hold so it’s either crisp or short-lived depending on your feeling about these things. This means, we presume, that the player has to be fairly dexterous to keep the notes coming, as any silences are not going to be abrupt and obvious.

There are six fantasias and six canzonas and the CD lasts about an hour. As befits an enthusiast who loves what he’s doing, Charlston explains the music in full and even Herr Hermert gets a page or two to explain what he does.

This is a quiet backwater of classical music, but one in which all those who wash up there have a thoroughly good time.

It’s out on Divine Art, dda 25204. It was recorded at, and is part funded by, the Royal College of Music.

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