LABELS: Naïve Astrée
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Pavana Ð The Virgin Harpsichord
PERFORMER: Skip Sempé (harpsichord, virginal), Olivier Fortin, Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: E 8841
This is a conventional recital of Elizabethan keyboard music with a difference. Sempé asserts (without supporting evidence) that ‘the tradition of playing harpsichords in “consort” was widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries’, and has arranged several pieces for up to three instruments. The ‘tradition’, if it existed, must have been confined to establishments wealthy enough to own several instruments. That large-scale sound – Italian and French harpsichords with a virginal for three pieces by Morley – is incredibly rich and enveloping. The duet arrangements are dances, enlivened by the percussive effect of two keyboard actions coinciding, while Sempé includes one standard duet – two players at one keyboard – Tomkins’s ‘Fancy for two to play’.
The remaining, solo, pieces are mostly on a muselaar virginal, with keys to the right and strings plucked near the middle. The sound is entrancingly dense, and all the plummier for being recorded from the audience’s perspective rather than, as so often, the player’s with microphone stuffed under the lid. Sempé plays the livelier dances with a fine, springy step, though his intense expressiveness in slower pavans distances them from their functional origin. Mean-tone tuning, enhancing the warm sonority, is tested only once by the far-ranging key-scape of a Gibbons pavan. George Pratt