"Harpsichord Music for a Thin Place" reviewed in Early Music America

Early Music America, Vol. 18, No. 4, Winter 2012
by Lance Hulme

A "thin place" is an ancient Celtic spiritual concept currently enjoying revival within Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Thin places are where the dividing line between the earthly and the divine seems to diminish, allowing for healing presence. Music has always been a means of spiritual communion, and, with such practices as the Taizé liturgy in France, is also receiving renewed emphasis as a thin place in the contemplative life.

Yale-trained harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa presents slower, meditative works from a variety of composers as his personal thin place. I strongly suspect that the performance of these works is for him a form of spiritual meditation and that Cienniwa is giving us a glimpse into a very personal space. In our present culture, coarsened by irony and incessant competition, I find this rather gutsy.

His choice of works spans the Renaissance to the late Baroque, and includes selections from Byrd, Sweelinck, Froberger, Couperin (François and Louis), Rameau, Bach, and others. The one outlier is a new Saraband by Larry Thomas Bell (b. 1952), whose use of hanging dissonances and ninth-chords creates a poignant frisson in among the older masters. The choices are eclectic and personal without becoming a grab-bag, and a steady arc of rhapsodic contemplation connects each work. Cienniwa displays a fine clarity of line and phrasing, and he shapes each work well. The harpsichord is somewhat closely recorded; I agree with his suggestion to listen to the recording at a rather low volume.

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