Rosner and Pinkham: 20th Century Harpsichord Music

Record Label: MSR Classics
Release Date: April 2013

Daniel Pinkham, Arnold Rosner
Barbara Harbach, harpsichord


“[Rosner’s] harpsichord writing shows a deep knowledge of the harpsichord literature. I enjoyed the textures he creates in the ‘Noel’ movement.… Rosner’s Sonatine D’Amour (1987) is lovely… Pinkham’s Partita for Harpsichord (1964) is conceived on a grand scale… Pinkham was fond of counterpoint, and several movements offer his take on classic polyphonic techniques like canon and fugue. Other movements are lyrical. The Andante, with its syncopations and melancholy minor seconds, is almost bluesy. The second-to-last movement, a Scherzo and Trio, shows the harpsichord at its most sparkly. Pinkham wrote excellently for the harpsichord—which he played. Harbach plays with great conviction. People interested in 20th century harpsichord music will be overjoyed to hear this superb release.”
Katz, American Record Guide [May/June 2103]

This disc is the reissue of a 1990 CD that originally came out on the Gasparo label (I found only one link that dated Gasparo as far forward as 2005 but could not find conclusive evidence that the label is now defunct). Both are works by modern American composers for the harpsichord: one written essentially for the composer’s own satisfaction to portray certain women he knew through his chess club correspondence or friends’ wives, the other commissioned as background music for a public television show in Boston that never aired. Moreover, the styles of the two composers could not be more different. Rosner’s music is eclectic but essentially tonal (in this case, however, most of it sounds very Eastern, like Turkish or Arabic music) while Pinkham’s is decidedly atonal or at least multi-tonal. Also, Rosner’s music is much more mood-oriented while Pinkham’s is more complex in construction. One of the more fascinating aspects of this CD is the manner in which Harbach, who is herself a composer, manages to elicit a tremendous range of moods from the harpsichord. Since the dynamic range of her instrument is rather circumscribed by comparison with a piano, she manages to do this by means of registration changes and inserting pauses in the musical line. I found her touch and style endlessly fascinating to listen to even though, as noted earlier, some of these passages were recorded a little too close to the mike for my taste. This is not easy listening music for your next Sunday brunch or “party with a purpose”; the music is often too complex, demanding of the listener, and even somewhat dark in mood to serve that purpose. All for the better, because this is one of the most fascinating discs ever to come my way for review.
Lynn René Bayley Fanfare Magazine [Mar/Apr 2013

Barbara Harbach has toured internationally as both a harpsichordist and organist. A body of work has been written for her and she has composed prolifically herself, including not only keyboard works but symphonies, operas and ballets. Living composer Arnold Rosner has written over 120 musical works during a 50-year period. Most are conservative and tonal, with minimalism used for decorative effects. He has a strangely idiosyncratic style, with such elements as the harmonically roaming polychoral influence of Henrich Schutz and the influence of Indian music. His Musique de Clavecin has five movements in a Baroque pattern, each inspired by a different woman he has known, including one titled “Les Suzannes” because several of his friends had married women named Susan. Boston-based Daniel Pinkham, who died in 2006, studied with Walter Piston, Aaron Copland, Arthur Honegger and Samuel Barber. He studied harpsichord with Wanda Landowska and was a prolific composer, writing four symphonies, concertos, cantatas, oratorios, chamber operas, chamber music and 20 film scores. He had been Director of Music at Boston’s King’s Chapel. He wrote the Partita for Harpsichord while I was working at WBGH in Boston. It was supposed to be music for three half-hour films on modern art, which were never distributed. However, Pinkham also created the Partita, similar to those of J.S. Bach, with a series of ten movements of contrasting moods and technical devices. Barbara Harbach plays a large two-manual harpsichord
patterned after a German Baroque instrument, in which the 16 ft. stop is used
frequently in the Rosner piece.
John Sunier, Audiophile Audition, 2014