Persichetti Harpsichord Sonatas – Appealingly Modern

If you only know the harpsichord as an 18th-century instrument, Persichetti’s sonatas can be a little disorienting. The harmonies, the counterpoint, and the melodies are all mid-20th century. It sounds nothing like Bach.

And yet Persichetti managed to write music that’s thoroughly idiomatic to the instrument. And Christopher D. Lewis, a specialist in modern harpsichord literature, gets the most out of that music.

The album includes five of Persichetti’s nine sonatas written for the instrument (plus a serenade). The first sonata was composed in 1951. The others — nos. 3, 5, 8, and 9 — date from the 1980s.

These works from Persichetti’s final decade are finely-crafted, indeed. Persichetti uses layered textures instead of volume to add emphasis. Chromatic melodies may have a tonal base, but not necessarily triadic.

Pan-diatonic chords and polytonality give the harpsichord textures at odds with its Baroque heritage. Nevertheless, it works. Lewis’ phrasing and precise execution bring out the best in these works, clearly outlining Persichetti’s musical structures.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of thoroughly modern harpsichord music.

Vincent Persichetti: Harpsichord Sonatas
Christopher D. Lewis, harpsichord
Naxos 8.559842

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