Christopher D. Lewis / Kevin Mallon

Glass, Rutter, Françaix: Harpsichord Concertos

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Glass, Rutter, Françaix: Harpsichord Concertos Review

by James Manheim

The 20th century produced a surprising number of concertos for harpsichord and orchestra, and this release takes up some of the lesser-known items. John Rutter's Suite Antique might make an unsatisfactory beginning to the program for some. It is not really a harpsichord concerto but a kind of neo-Baroque suite, with one Brubeck-like jazz movement. It has a prominent flute part. The work was written for an event commemorating the music of Bach, and, as in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050, the harpsichord emancipates itself from its continuo role in the final movement. The work may be of interest to Rutter fans; although it was composed in 1979, prior to Rutter's founding of his Cambridge Singers, it bears the personality of his later music, with sentimental familiarity mixed with a few bold strokes (the jazz in this case) that have never been done in quite the same way. The centerpiece is Philip Glass' Concerto for harpsichord and chamber orchestra, composed in 2002. This is a good example of Glass' popular late style, with a harmonic palette expanded from his earlier minimalist works and a big syncopated finale to make everyone sit up and take notice. Perhaps the biggest find here is the Concerto for harpsichord and instrumental ensemble of the mostly forgotten Jean Françaix, a delightful neo-classic piece that makes full use of the harpsichord's expressive palette. The performances by harpsichordist Christopher D. Lewis and the West Side Chamber Orchestra under Irish conductor Kevin Mallon (the West Side referred to is New York's) are lively and clean, and there's a certain X factor that works in the album's favor: here are three works of the 20th century, all conservative in style and all with similar instrumentation, that are completely different from each other in effect.

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