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Mark Kravchenko
Classical Music Sentinel, November 2010

Here is something that is not often recorded. And of the versions recorded, this is by far the best. I think you can tell I liked it! A combination of a greatly sensitive performer, and a well conceived and built instrument to match the structure and sonorities of the music. The recording is well balanced between being there and being inside the harpsichord! I mean it sounds very close to first row in a not too large drawing room. Intimate and still captivating in it's intensity. A good compromise between a close microphone approach and too much room reverberation that plagues so many harpsichord recordings.

What these are in a nutshell are transcriptions Johann Sebastian Bach made for his patron during his early days at Weimar. It allowed one performer to mimic the ideas behind the orchestral scores the transcriptions represented. To play such pieces on a keyboard instrument requires an understanding of what the music sounds like in full score, and by the instrumental complement called for in the real version. The reduction can be quite interesting. The compromises are where the performer has to do the most work. One person has to understand the limits and abilities of the instrument to get the most out of it.

Elizabeth Farr has the technical ability and the musical sensibility to perform these pieces at a level unattained in any recordings I have listened to up to this point. The instrument used is part of the reason I rate this recording so highly. It's not the old nasal plincky ( hold your nose closed when you say plincky and you will get the idea!) sounding harpsichord that we hear all too often. No, I would put it like this. Your moving up from a cheap upright piano to a proper concert grand. There is no comparison. What Keith Hill has compiled and nurtured in this instrument is downright wonderful to listen to. The addition of the 16 foot register adds the oomph that is so lacking in any other recording I have listened to. The combination of the effects available and the artful use of them in solo and tutti passages in the score, makes this a landmark recording to be learned from by future performers for years to come. You can hear the areas where a solo is taking place in the original score. The passages where we have an effect of ensemble against solo are well played and artfully registered. If you have ever had any interest in this time period in Bach's early career while in Weimar, this is the set of discs in my opinion, with which to judge all others.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, November 2010

The Bach disc floored me so much when I first heard it that I tried to get to interview Elizabeth Farr, but couldn’t. Not only wonderful music but, more importantly, a huge, full-bodied harpsichord sound—from an “authentic” instrument—to rival Wanda Landowska’s. Who says there weren’t instruments like this in Bach’s day? Farr proves otherwise. Plus, her performances have sweep, drama, and elegance in spades.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, November 2010

The Bach disc floored me so much when I first heard it that I tried to get to interview Elizabeth Farr, but couldn’t. Not only wonderful music but, more importantly, a huge, full-bodied harpsichord sound—from an “authentic” instrument—to rival Wanda Landowska’s. Who says there weren’t instruments like this in Bach’s day? Farr proves otherwise. Plus, her performances have sweep, drama, and elegance in spades.

James Manheim, June 2010

This Bach release by American harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr is unusual in several respects and will be welcomed by listeners with Bach collections of any size. Start with the harpsichord, built by the iconoclastic maker Keith Hill in rural Manchester, MI. It’s modeled on the Dutch Ruckers instruments of the 17th century, but it includes a set of 16-foot strings, and it has a truly mighty sound, beautifully captured at what is identified as Ploger Hall in the same locality…The booklet (in English only) includes a short note from Hill admitting that such a harpsichord would have been rare in Bach’s time, but suggesting that it was a luxury item that its “value cannot be overestimated” when it is used where it makes musical sense. That’s definitely the case here. These “concertos for solo harpsichord” are transcriptions Bach made for solo keyboard in the early 1710s, of mostly violin concertos by mostly Italian composers. It is not known for certain why Bach made them; he may simply have liked the music and wanted to study it more closely, but Farr’s detailed notes also indicate that the transcriptions might have been done at the behest of Bach’s patron at the time, the Duke of Weimar. The transcriptions of works by Vivaldi, grouped together on disc 1, are fairly well known; the others are rarer on recordings and might have been inserted among the Vivaldi pieces for variety, matching the sequence in the Bach Werke Verzeichnis. In any order, however, they work beautifully on the harpsichord used here, which can evoke orchestral-solo contrasts in a unique way. The dramatic Vivaldi outer movements, on which Farr takes her time, are especially stirring. Her playing is muscular, yet not without expression, and one possible audience for this release would be fans of the monster harpsichords that accompanied the revival of the instrument on LP in the 1960s who’d like to hear a big harpsichord sound done right. Dip into one of the Vivaldi works and sample, and you may well be hooked.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, May 2010

This recording hit me like a ton of bricks in three ways. First, there is the music itself, not actually by J.S. Bach but rather transcriptions he made for harpsichord of concertos by Vivaldi, Torelli, Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello, Johann Ernst, Telemann, and unknown composers, in addition to his own Prelude and Fugue in A Minor. Second, there is the extraordinarily high quality of Elizabeth Farr’s performances, dramatic, nuanced, and extraordinarily colorful. And third, there is the sound of the instrument, a rare Baroque-era harpsichord with a 16’ set of strings as well as damper and sustain pedals. When this CD first started pouring out of my speakers, I thought I was listening to Wanda Landowska in digital stereo. It turns out that such fabulous beasts did exist, after all, in the Baroque era, in fact from as far back as the 16th century. Well, well, well. It turns out that Landowska, who has been lambasted for more than half a century for her “grotesque,” “gargantuan-sounding” instruments, was on the right track after all. Not having an authentic instrument to play, she simply had Pleyel create one for her. Granted, it had a grand piano frame because she was a touring musician and even a newly minted harpsichord with 16’ strings would have gotten pummeled on trains, but the sound was not that far removed from this.

Farr is also an interesting annotator. In order to save space I refer you to her liner notes, which explain why Bach transcribed 22 concertos by primarily Italian composers for harpsichord (six of them are for two harpsichords). The key to the project was young Prince Johann Ernst, the nephew of Duke Wilhelm, who in fact composed three of the concertos transcribed here. The young prince, an outstanding musician, wanted them to play on his instrument. Bach was willing to oblige for one particular reason: By writing out these concertos he could study their composing methods, and apply what he learned to his own “Italianate” music.

Farr’s playing is in the style of Leonhardt and Kipnis, using a great deal of rubato—some of it obvious, some of it quite subtle—to break up the very regular rhythms. I love this style. It is antithetical to British harpsichordists like Trevor Pinnock (whom I also highly admire), but very much in line with the type of “hesitating” style that Bach himself later employed in so many solo harpsichord works, a style he undoubtedly picked up from his friend and older colleague Buxtehude. She also plays very dramatically—heavy chording and rich textures when emulating the full tutti of the orchestral passages, lighter and airier in slow movements and when emulating solo passages. This took me some getting used to, but I came to enjoy this approach. Some listeners may feel cheated that only one work (the Prelude and Fugue) is actually by Bach, but as a compendium of Baroque style transcribed by a musical genius, played to perfection and stunningly recorded, this set is very highly recommended.

Benjamin Katz
American Record Guide, March 2010

These concertos were transcribed by Bach from the works of Vivaldi, Telemann, Marcello, and Ernst. Farr plays on a beautiful Ruckersstyle harpsichord with a 16-foot stop. Examples of this type of instrument, rare in the 18th Century, are also rare in the harpsichord discography., December 2009

Their title means what it says: these pieces are in concerto form but are for solo harpsichord, not harpsichord and strings. There are 16 of these works in all, running a total of more than two-and-a-half hours, and they are not to be listened to all at once – the essentially monochromatic sound of the harpsichord (even one whose registrations are managed as skillfully as Elizabeth Farr does in this recording) makes them hard to take in huge doses. But of course they were not intended to be played or heard that way. These are Bach’s transcriptions of work by Vivaldi, Torelli and Telemann; less-known composers including Johann Ernst and brothers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello; and composers whose identity is unknown. Like Liszt in his opera transcriptions many years later, Bach made these concerto transcriptions with care and close attention to detail, possibly for his own study. They are early Bach works, from his Weimar period, and are certainly not designed for virtuosic display, although they require a considerable amount of skillful playing – notably in fugal movements. Farr is an intelligent and committed interpreter of this music, performing it with grandeur (aided by the use of a two-manual harpsichord with 16’ sound) and considerable sensitivity. And the A minor Prelude and Fugue makes a fine encore to the concerto set. Even if these particular transcriptions did not directly influence Liszt – although perhaps they did – they are excellent examples of the way one composer learns from others through adaptation, alteration and updating. As Bach did with Vivaldi and others, so Liszt later did with Bach. Different time, different keyboard, but the compositional impulse remains much the same – and every bit as strong.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2009

Why Bach transcribed a series of concertos by contemporaneous Italian and German composers has fascinated music historians, Elizabeth Farr setting out her thoughts with this new release. As they come from his younger years, they may well have been used to frequent himself with the Italian school, the physical task of copying music an accepted learning tool in those days. Yet the reason may have been more mundane, as the nephew of his employer, Duke Wilhelm, had travelled to Amsterdam where he apparently heard organists playing transcriptions, and Bach, anxious to please the Duke, performed the same task for his nephew’s use. All sixteen that are scored for solo keyboard are here included, together with an original Prelude and Fugue, BWV894, composed in the same era. They date from the early years of the 18th century, and would have also served the purpose of allowing people to hear concertos of Vivaldi, Torelli, Marcello, Telemann and Ernst in locations where no instrumental ensemble existed. Bach only used concertos where the solo was given to a stringed or woodwind instrument, and seems particularly taken by Vivaldi who accounts for six of the transcriptions—three lifted from L’estro armonico—Bach so skillfully marrying the solo role and the orchestra as to create seamless keyboard scores. There are three concertos where the originator is unknown, which is unfortunate as the one in G minor (BWV983) is a particularly attractive score. Played, as here, on a two-manual period reproduction harpsichord from Keith Hill, with the disposition 16’8’8’4’ and two buff stops, gives Farr the power that can almost equate to a small Baroque ensemble. Her playing is clearly articulated and tempos chosen to keep the music pressing admirably forward, while the Prelude and Fugue is an extended and welcome addition to the release.The sound is punchy, and as I like my harpsichord sound up-front and clinically clean, I find the discs admirable.

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, November 2009

Among the many works composed by Bach during his stay at Weimar were 22 transcriptions for keyboards of concertos originally by various German and Italian composers. Six of them were for two harpsichords and 16 for solo harpsichord. This double-disc set comprises the latter. I wasn’t aware there were that many.

The first six solo concerti are after Vivaldi violin concerti. Then there are three for which the original composer is not known, followed by concerti from Torelli, Marcello, Ernst and Telemann. The conclusion of the program is the Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV 894, which was also used as the first and last movements of Bach’s Triple Concerto BWV 1044. It is thought that Bach did all these keyboard transcriptions as a self-education project, developing his musical thinking. In the process he was often transcribing violin concerti to the more virtuosic double-manual harpsichord, offering opportunities for possible enhancement of the originals. In many of the slow movements Bach wrote down the embellishments and ornamentation which were not in the originals but were expected to be added improvisationally by the performers. Most of the concerti run about seven or eight minutes, though one of the Vivaldis runs 11 and the Torelli Concerto in B minor clocks in at 12 minutes.

The harpsichord used for the recordings was built on the Ruckers historical design by Keith Hill, but with a 16 ft. stop set of strings an octave below the normal 8 ft. stop. The results are so much richer and fuller-sounding than the typical German harpsichord with only 8 ft. and 4 ft. stops. Its pickup on the recording is close but without undo mechanical noise from the action. Farr is currently on the faculty of the University of Colorado and is a superb performer of the concerti. This is an outstanding set, and at a most reasonable price.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, November 2009

Keyboardist Elizabeth Farr has made a number of excellent recordings on several instruments, all of which have been a pleasure to listen to. In undertaking the daunting challenge of recording all of the sixteen solo concertos, though, she may have overreached. The instrument that Farr plays (built by Keith Hill) is modeled after the Flemish builder Ruckers, with the addition of a sixteen foot stop, which gives it an added depth dimension. Given that these works are transcriptions (i.e., reductions) of orchestral works by Bach's contemporaries, this was a wise decision.

Mark Kravchenko
Classical Music Sentinel

…this is by far the best. A combination of a greatly sensitive performer, and a well conceived and built instrument to match the structure and sonorities of the music.

Elizabeth Farr has the technical ability and the musical sensibility to perform these pieces at a level unattained in any recordings… © 2015 My Classical Notes Read complete review

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