"Harpsichord Music for a Thin Place" gets fantastic review in UHF Magazine!

Harpsichord Music For a Thin Place
Paul Cienniwa
Balaena WCS 059
reviewed by Gerard Rejskind, Fall 2012
http://www.uhfmag.com/Issue92/UHF92.pdf (pp. 70-71)

There’s no mystery why the harpsichord fell out of favor in the late 18th Century and was replaced by the piano. The harpsichord produces sound by strumming its strings, rather like a guitar, and it lacked the loudness to compete with the ever larger orchestras in the new and bigger concert halls. It had another disadvantage too. Unlike the organ, whose repertoire it was expected to play, the harpsichord plays each note at the same volume, narrowing its range of emotional expression. Though Bach played and wrote for the harpsichord (or “the keyboard,” which could mean organ or harpsichord), the great pianist Glenn Gould argued that he would have preferred the piano had he had access to it.

And yet there is something special about the sound of the harpsichord, even to our ears so jaded by the infinite variety of electronic instruments. Unlike the piano, the harpsichord produces notes with a discreet fundamental tone, which is however rich in harmonics. It cannot be confused with any other instrument. That very richness, however, make it challenging to record, and to reproduce. Pretty much any reproduction system has difficulty with higher frequencies, and that goes double for digital. Few instruments other than the modern flute have such harmonics, and they’re a challenge. The result is that many harpsichord recordings are difficult to listen to for long, because they trigger major listener fatigue.

This recording is a major exception.

To capture at once the delicacy and the richness of the instrument, engineer Walter Klimasewski used a single pair of Schoeps CMC 64 microphones, with neither equalization nor compression. Avoidingcompression and volume limiting usually means leaving plenty of headroom, but in fact there is a lot of volume on this CD. All the bits are used, yet there is no trace of overload.

Why the odd title? Paul Cienniwa says that the “thin place” is the threshold between the ordinary and the spiritual. “It is my desire,” he says, “to bring my audience to a thin place through the beautiful stately elegance of the harpsichord’s most introspective repertoire.”

The pieces he has chosen are mostly French (the Couperins, both Louis and François) Rameau, and Forqueray, as well as Sweelinck, Byrd and Bach. I’ve heard some of this music sound rather deadly, especially that of Louis Couperin. Cienniwa gives it life, not by accelerating the tempo, but because he has a feel for its innate beauty. No listener fatigue here. Not many music lovers, even lovers of the Baroque and the Renaissance, have large collections of music for solo harpsichord, but this fine recording belongs in the collection of those who just love music.

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