Really unusual stuff
by James Leonard
Last April, Penelope Crawford was scheduled to perform a recital of harpsichord music at the Kerrytown Concert House. Everything was all set the repertoire had been picked and learned, and the hall had been booked and then, for reasons beyond her control, the concert had to be canceled. But that was last year, and on Thursday, March 17, Crawford is again scheduled to perform a recital of harpsichord music at the Concert House.
In itself, a recital of harpsichord music by Penelope Crawford is not an especially unusual event. As a longtime Ann Arbor resident and one of the finest harpsichordists in the country, Crawford has been performing in town for decades. And in a town that has always fervently embraced early music, harpsichord recitals are not themselves particularly unusual.
What's exceptional about this concert is the repertoire. The works Crawford had chosen for her recital last year were about as far from the standard repertoire as anyone could get. How else could one describe a program of works by the seventeenth-century Italian composers Bernardo Storace, Michelangelo Rossi, Giovanni de Macque, and Gioan Pietro del Buono? While the two works on the program by the German Georg Böhm are among his best known, how well known is Böhm? And while the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is extremely well known, the Bach piece on the program is a rarely heard transcription.
Most of this music is unfamiliar to local audiences, and, indeed, most of it was unfamiliar to Crawford a year ago. As she said in an interview last year, "It's all new to me, and I'm learning it all from scratch." But that was last year, and even after a year she spent learning other music, the music of Storace, Rossi, de Macque, and del Buono is no doubt deep in Crawford's fingers by now. This does not, of course, make the music any less new to her audience.
As Crawford says, "It's
really unusual stuff." Indeed, the harpsichord music of seventeenth-century Italy was written to be unusual. This was the music of the high period of Baroque, a style that prized the outlandish and the outrageous. De Macque's Consonanze Stravaganti is marked by its abrupt juxtapositions and its extreme chromaticism far in advance of other Italian music of the time. Rossi's Toccata no. 7 features scales capering all over the keyboard. Del Buono's Sonata is built on the medieval "Ave Maris Stella" cantus firmus but embellished with enough chromaticism to push the music straight into the late nineteenth century.
Even the tried-and-true portion of Crawford's recital program is in many ways all new. Georg Böhm's Prelude, Fugue, and Postlude in G Minor are as wild and woolly as the weirdest German keyboard work before Bach. And of the two works by Bach on the program, one is the deliriously diabolical Toccata in G Minor, and the other is his transcription of his own Violin Sonata in D Major a piece hard enough to challenge even Crawford.
[Originally published in March, 2005.]