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Benjamin Katz
American Record Guide, May 2011

The Chromatic Fantasy attains its magical spark in this performance not only from Bach’s mysterious arpeggios, but also from the harpsichordist’s eerie non-simultaneous release of selected chords. If the listener is not yet familiar with the sounds of the finest surviving antique harpsichords, then allow this release to serve as a magnificent introduction.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, March 2011

Lisa Good Crawford may be heard on a handful of CDs in which she partners with other players in Baroque chamber works by Telemann, Rameau, Royer, and Marais. But this appears to be only her second solo album; her first, for the Centaur label, was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Neither that release, nor any of the others as far as I can tell, has been reviewed here. So, some background on Crawford is in order. She is American born, Harvard educated, and from her booklet photo appears to be a woman of, let us say, mature years. From 1973 to 2005, she was professor of harpsichord at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a central figure in that institution’s early-music program and summer Baroque Performance Institute. She has appeared in solo recital and ensemble performances throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan, and has edited the keyboard works of Pancrace Royer for the series Le Pupitre published by Heugel (Paris). A scholar and specialist in the music of Royer, she produced and directed the composer’s ballet héroique, Le Pouvoir de l’Amour (1743), at Oberlin in 2002 and prepared a performing edition of the opera.

On the current CD, recorded mid 2008 at the Musée d’Unterlinden in Colmar, France, Crawford plays a 1624 harpsichord from the workshop of Antwerp maker Johannes Ruckers. The instrument was restored in 1980 by Christopher Clarke, and tuned, according to Clarke’s note, in tempéraments inégaux (unequal temperaments), a not very informative description since many different tuning systems, both equal and unequal, were in use at the time.

There is nothing else in Bach’s solo keyboard canon quite like the free-form fantasia of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, an example of the so-called stylus phantasticus. The piece, or some cheesy imitation of it, has long been the movie-maker’s choice cliché for haunted house music. Its effect derives from the fully diminished seventh chord, which not only portends dire dread, but its unique symmetrical formation has the ability to resolve enharmonically in any direction and therefore to modulate freely. The fantasia movement is as well known and popular as it is no doubt because it is so unusual in Bach’s output, but musically there’s nothing exceptionally clever or ingenious about it. Its six minutes or so consist of florid diminished seventh and other chromatic chord flourishes and rapid runs. As for the corresponding fugue, it wouldn’t be the last time Bach demonstrated his fascination with counterpointing on highly chromatic subjects; the Thema Regium (i.e., Frederick’s folly) from A Musical Offering contains every note of the chromatic scale except for a B♭.

The six keyboard partitas that make up Book 1 of Bach’s Clavier-Übung and the six English Suites have been discussed at length in previous reviews. Crawford plays the fourth in the set of partitas and the third in the set of English Suites.

With recordings of restored 17th-century harpsichords, it can be a bit difficult to tell if the blurring of lines, especially in fast passagework, is a function of the instrument’s voicing and inability of its mechanism to respond quickly enough, or if the player’s fingers are responsible. In either case, what I find here is a running-together or bleeding of notes that tends to obscure the individual voices.

Add to that a harpsichord tone that is not among the most ingratiating I’ve heard, and Crawford’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue does not stand up well to Richard Egarr’s on a modern copy of a 1638 Ruckers. Nor is her English Suite competitive with Christoph Rousset’s on a 1632 Ruckers restored in 1787, or her partita nearly as “poetic, lyrical, filled with grace, and ultimately sublime” as Benjamin Alard’s on a modern copy of a Sidey harpsichord, reviewed in Fanfare 34: 1. The fact that Rousset achieves the “wide array of tonal colors” and “varied use of registration”—see James Altena’s review in 34:2—on a slightly later instrument by the same maker as the instrument used by Crawford tends to place fault on the player rather than on the harpsichord. Ultimately, Crawford just does not strike me as being very imaginative. Her performances, technically solid, come across as somewhat stolid, pedestrian, and unvarying.

Fanfare’s readers, being the knowledgeable and serious collectors they are, are sure to have recordings of these works on their shelves; for them this release is superfluous. For pledges to the classical music fraternity, however, and at Naxos’s price, this sampler of Bach’s solo keyboard works will serve as a decent starter investment.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, December 2010

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing an excellent account of JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations by the celebrated American harpsichordist Lisa Good Crawford on Centaur Records. Now, I’m pleased to report that her new Naxos recording of three major Bach works is marked by the same outstanding qualities as her earlier release: a feeling for form and color, a sense of spontaneity, and a disciplined control that isn’t afraid to launch out into calculated abandon when the music requires it. The three works you hear in this recital all benefit from this approach, in various degrees.

Most obvious beneficiary, of course, is the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903 with its theatrical and quasi-improvisatory character. There is nothing quite like this amazing work in all of Bach’s opus, though the first part of his Organ Fantasia & Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 approaches it as a free fantasia in the “fantastic style” (stylus phantasticus). The title comes from either its chromatic melody or the startling modulations into other keys that keep the listener off balance, while the harmonic structure of the work invites the performer to make decisions that involve real creativity. It is easy for a less insightful performer than Crawford to lose sight of the main tonality amid all the exuberant passagework and arpeggios in the Fantasia. Even today, it can all seem so very avant-garde that the unwary listener may be excused for thinking that the Fantasia is entirely chromatic, even atonal, though Bach uses cadences and a fixed tonic pedal in the last section to bring us back. Crawford opens up her sheer virtuosity in the of the Fugue, with its exuberant, driving rhythms and its subject built on an elaborate chain of long-short-short figures.

Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828 benefits from Crawford’s approach in terms of rhythmic flexibility and mood. It begins with a French ouverture in dotted rhythms characterized by exuberant scale runs and ornaments. A surprise here is the freedom with which she performs the Allemande, which, without losing its distinctive metre, takes on a dreamy quality that is not what one expects of this firmly emphasized German dance. Indeed, it takes some attention away from the Sarabande, which is normally the emotionally deepest point of a suite. The Aria is also unusual in that its bass line commands more attention than the melody. The Minuet is swiftly and deftly characterized here, and the more rustic dances, the Corrente and Gigue, are taken very energetically.

English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808 comes from an early Bach collection (ca. 1715) that has never been a personal favorite of mine. The present example shows why, in its uneasy assimilation of German and French influences, shown in the clash between the insistent and incisive theme of the Prelude, heard above a roiling bass line, and the suite of dances that follow. The unusually somber nature of the latter are dispelled when we get to the sunny Gavotte. Its double, listed as “Gavotte II ou la Musette,” sounds very charming here in Crawford’s interpretation. She takes full advantage of the registration inherent in her instrument, a double manual Ruckers harpsichord (1624), to create the illusion of droning bagpipes in the bass. But Bach’s counterpoint clouds the normally lively duple rhythms of the Gigue, leaving one with the impression one often gets in the English Suites, that they are an early attempt at what he would later do better in his French Suites.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2010

This is how Bach believed his music would sound, the recording having been made on Johannes Ruckers harpsichord of 1624. Compare the English Suite or the Partita with the recordings made on a modern piano some years ago on the Naxos label and you will find you are texturally in a different world. The instrument was changed a number of times in its early years to meet the evolving demands of music, the last alteration coming during the lifetime of Bach. This gorgeous looking instrument presently resides in the museum in Colmar, France, where the recording was made, the soloist, Lisa Goode Crawford, an American-born musician who has devoted most of her career to the period instrument performances of Baroque music. Her approach to Bach is certainly robust, and avoids that straightjacket approach so many lesser performers would offer as period style. So we hear an improvisatory Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, and it is that lively and imaginative approach that continues through the Partita and into the English Suite. Turn to  track 9, the Gigue conclusion of the Fourth Partita, to sample the impact, vivacity and clarity of Crawford’s playing, or the grace she brings to the Allemande of Third English Suite (track 11). The recording engineers have gone in close to give a nice ‘punchy’ sound yet have captured little of the unwanted action noise. There are plenty of highly attractive recordings already in the CD catalogue, but I hope Naxos will expand on this first Crawford release.

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