Egarr's harpsichord honors the lute

Concert Review
February 6, 2012 12:00 am

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Listen to Richard Egarr speak about the harpsichord and you might think he picked the wrong instrument.

At his concerts, recitals and in interviews, he talks as much about the lute as he does the baroque keyboard instrument. But the British musician has good reason, and good reasoning. At Synod Hall Saturday night, he again did a masterful job of explaining how entwined the two instruments are.

By his count, Mr. Egarr (also conductor of the famed Academy of Early Music) has performed in Pittsburgh, mostly on the Renaissance & Baroque Society series, more than in any other city in America, and he treated the audience like old friends.

The harpsichord arose in a period dominated by the subtle and quiet arts of courtly life. It mimicked the intimate, guitar-like lute, rather than replaced it. Eventually, the harpsichord did, although displaced might be a better term. But in 17th century repertoire, a two-manual harpsichord was meant to sound like the picking of a lute: one keyboard approximating the end of the lute's strings (sounding nasal) and the other the middle (giving a rounded tone).

Even for the knowledgeable aficionados of the Renaissance & Baroque Society, which presented him again, this was an apt lesson. It certainly helped me listen to the music by Couperin, Froberger, Purcell and Blow with a keener ear, as did his lively and vivid discussion of period tuning.

When he did take his seat, Mr. Egarr showcased a command of the harpsichord that few others have. He improvised filigree and concocted phrasing like a pastry chef. Lightness of touch and creative expressivity abounded. Just as impressive was his ability to embody the physicality of the dances as much as their stylized spirit -- his nimble fingers flying across keys.

The best playing of the evening, however, were the slower ground-bass, or variation, pieces. The highlights were two by Purcell and one each by Couperin and Froberger in memory of a lute player. Mr. Egarr played all in a deliberate manner that brought out both the ceremonial and human elements of this poignant genre.

Here was the connection not just to the lute, but to the poetic goal to which it aspired.

WQED announced the Dominion Volunteers in the Arts (VITA) for 2011, supported by a grant from energy and natural gas holding company Dominion. The award winners and the non-profit organizations they served are:

• Ann M. McGuinn, board member of The Andy Warhol Museum since it was founded in 1996.

• Corinne Kraft, 10-year board member, Edgewood Symphony Orchestra

• Ann Benzel, 25-year board member, Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art

• Michael Edwards, 2010 co-founder, Fayette County Cultural Trust.

• Kathe Patrinos, 15-year docent at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

• Joe Wos, 2007 founder, executive director of ToonSeum.

Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-1750.
First Published 2012-02-11 01:54:21
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