The Essential Harpsichord
I would have preferred ''The Popular Harpsichord'' to ''The Essential Harpsichord'' since, of course so much that is of essence to harpsichord players and lovers of the instrument is necessarily omitted. But, on the other hand, little that has helped to re-establish its popularity in the present century has been omitted from Virginia Black's wide-ranging recital. Bach's Italian Concerto, Scarlatti's E major Sonata, Daquin's Le coucou, Couperin's Les baricades misterieuses, Handel's Harmonious Blacksmith so-called, Paradies's Toccata in A major, and Mozart's Turkish Rondo—all those pieces which you might have expected to find in a late Victorian canterbury or an Edwardian music stool, are mustered here, and many more, too, providing the listener with a rich spectrum of the harpsichord in the eighteenth century.
Virginia Black is a communicative artist, extrovert, colourful, spontaneous but with a deep sense of poetry which has sometimes taken me by surprise. There is not much opportunity for projecting this aspect of her playing in the present recital but she does so in the slow movement of Bach's Italian Concerto with eloquent articulation, a comfortably moving tempo and an effective rhythmic suppleness. In the outer movements of this work, the musical high-water mark in a programme entirely free from dross, Black articulates the phrases with admirable clarity, never allowing herself to indulge in meaningless virtuosity. Likewise, I enjoyed Handel's E major Theme and Variations from the Suite No. 5, and a fluent, robust account of the G minor Passacaille from the Seventh Suite. Just occasionally, I felt her playing a shade frenetic—the last variations would have benefited from more poise—but she never fails to breathe life into the music. The Mozart comes off well, too, though the lovely W. F. Bach Polonaise never perhaps speaks from the heart.
A recital such as this deserves to win friends, and few readers are likely to be disappointed either by the music or Black's lively, even at times passionate playing. Infinitely subtle shades of opinion within the harpsichord-playing fraternity will, of course, reveal their differences but then that goes for every such recital; but here, above all, is one that should be enjoyed for its diversity, its charm and its esprit. The harpsichord itself is a fine-sounding instrument, very well recorded. Recommended.'