Contemporary Music for Harpsichord, Volume 1
Malcolm Lipkin (1932-2017)
Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988)
De profundis op 76 (1977)
John McCabe (1939-2015)
The Greensleeves Ground (1969)
Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015)
Sonata for harpsichord (or piano) (1968)
Duncan Honeybourne (harpsichord)
rec. 2021/22, Peter Barnes workshop, Rode, Frome, UK
Prima Facie PFCD191 
This disc comprises a survey of major mid-twentieth century works for harpsichord, which is to make strange use of the word ‘contemporary’ in the title. All the pieces were written between 1968 and 1978 and while the booklet contains an admission that the word is ‘used here very generally to cover music composed since the harpsichord revival’, it is rather misleading.
As to the music itself, these are significant works of real power. The longest single piece is the Leighton De Profundis, which despite its length of 28 minutes, remains consistently engaging with its use of contrapuntal techniques and the composer’s characteristic type of melodic development, familiar to anyone who has encountered his organ music.
Equally welcome is the Stevenson Sonata for harpsichord (or piano), although as the notes make clear, the alternative can only have been included for commercial reasons, since the sonority of the harpsichord appears to have been central to the composer’s thinking when writing the work. In four movements and lasting over 22 minutes, the music discloses itself more readily than Lipkin’s Metamorphosis, adopted as the title of the disc and one is tempted to suggest that listeners new to twentieth century harpsichord music may wish to start with this piece, if only because the other three works use some form of variation technique, more difficult to assimilate at first hearing. The late John McCabe’s The Greensleeves Ground refers to the famous theme using fragments of the melody, but is emphatically not an example of the customary ground form, where variations are set above a repeated bass.
The notes explain that instruments built in the twentieth century often paid little attention to historic examples, having heavy casework and metal frames, but a certain amount of repertoire was written with such instruments in mind. Accordingly, a 1972 Goble ‘concert’ model was used for the Leighton and the Stevenson pieces, but a harpsichord by John Barnes, informed by an historic example by Albertus Delin, was used for the Lipkin and McCabe works. This works very well, since all the music contains indications of harpsichord registration and certain of these, such as the use of a 16-foot register, would not be possible with instruments based on an historical model.
Duncan Honeybourne is a very persuasive advocate for this music, playing it with complete conviction and technical assurance and making the strongest possible case for repertoire which does not readily yield all its secrets at first hearing. Honeybourne makes you want to keep listening.
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Goble ‘Concert’ model harpsichord, 1972 (Leighton and Stevenson)
Harpsichord by John Barnes, Edinburgh (1991) after Albertus Delin (c. 1750) (Lipkin and McCabe)