Skip to main content

 Recording of the Week  Harpsichord or Piano?

When I think of one of Bach's keyboard works I imagine the sound of the piano, not the harpsichord. It is now over 50 years since Glenn Gould's legendary 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations (recently re-issued on Naxos at a bargain £4.99 - see below) and since then the piano has probably become the normal choice for recording Bach's keyboard works.

It is odd, then, that the same rule has not applied itself to other Baroque music, and particularly not to the 18th century French repertoire where, until recently, Couperin and Rameau were still unequivocally the repertoire of harpsichordists only.

That all began to change a few years ago when first Alexandre Tharaud (Rameau) and then Angela Hewitt (first Couperin and more recently Rameau) began recording those composers on the piano. Tharaud's and Hewitt's approaches are very different and, while Hewitt tends to try and make her piano sound stylistically like a harpsichord, Tharaud almost re-invents the works in line with the increased capabilities of a modern concert grand.

Alexandre Tharaud
Alexandre Tharaud

Tharaud's new Couperin disc (out Monday April 2nd - see below) is simply stunning. He has carefully picked only the pieces that are already 'pianistic' in style, but is still left with a number of important performance issues to resolve. For example on a harpsichord the ornaments and trills are used to lengthen a note or give it a special colouring, but on the piano - with its natural ability to colour and sustain - Tharaud has to be careful not to overemphasise them or make them sound crude. This he does beautifully, employing a lighter touch, numerous subtleties of phrasing and an instinctive tempo rubato.

I've only had this disc a couple of weeks and it is already probably my most played disc this year! You can hear him really enjoying himself and you wonder why it has taken so long for someone to record this music in this way. Enjoy!

Bach - Goldberg Variations

Available Format: CD

Couperin: Tic Toc Choc & other pieces

Alexandre Tharaud (piano)


Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC