Fringe Music

Keyboards at St. Cecilia’s

St Cecilia’s Hall

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Hazel Rowland

four stars

WHO would have thought that tucked amongst the pubs and clubs of Cowgate lies the oldest purpose-build concert hall in Scotland? Having recently re-opened, and with an"official" Festival season underway, St Cecilia’s Hall began a series of Fringe concerts with not one but two harpsichordists in an intriguing if quirky recital of harpsichord duos.

Compared to modern instruments, harpsichords may be thought bland. Not only are they quieter, but their dynamic range is quite limited. In John Kitchen’s and David Gerrard’s steady hands, however, any presumptions were very quickly disproven. In Gaspard Le Roux’s Suite in A minor, the duo highlighted the array of characters their instruments can evoke, from the refined first movement, to the livelier, foot-tapping second, and a dancing finale.

With the first movement of Armand-Louis Couperin’s Deuxième Quatuor à Deux Clavecins, they enjoyed the contrast between moments of sweetness and dark subversion, while fast passages in thicker textures emphasised their instruments’ rich sound. In the slow movement, Gerard utilised his instrument’s capability of producing dynamic variation (an unusual ability for harpsichords). Although the actual changes in volume were slight, it forced the audience to really listen to hear the subtle changes.

Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 seems particularly unsuitable for an arrangement for harpsichords. Violinists enjoy performing the melody’s long-held notes from its famous "Air", but such sustained notes are impossible for harpsichords to imitate. Yet surprisingly, the arrangement worked, partly because Kitchen and Gerard avoided dragging the tempo, but perhaps also because it was unnecessary for the audience to actually hear the famous melody for it to be present in their minds. The two Gavotte movements worked better still, since, unlike a full orchestra, the players could act spontaneously and insert their own personalities into their performance.