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REVIEWS (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14)

Rameau

This recent import reissue of George Malcolm's 1965 L'Oiseau-Lyre (now Decca) Rameau keyboard cycle couldn't be more timely, especially for neophytes who simply want to hear these lovely, engaging, and important works. So many other recordings are unfortunately deleted. As it turns out though, Malcolm's cycle has held up remarkably well over the years regardless of the historically informed advances others have brought to this music in the meantime. No, Malcolm does not quite rival William Christie's high-brow elegance, nor will he overwhelm you with the flights of deft virtuosity Christophe Rousset often displays. What Malcolm does offer is a straightforward, no-nonsense account that's just as animated, articulate, and spirited as any of the competition in or out of circulation.

The primary characteristic that distinguishes Malcolm's performance is the way he often places extra emphasis on Rameau's dotted rhythms to clarify passages, in turn heightening the step of the dance. For instance, the opening "Les Tricolets" of the G major suite is rendered with a stunning Glenn Gould-like transfixing precision. Malcolm's treatment of Rameau's notorious "Les Cyclopes" of the D minor suite is equally spellbinding--as dark, sharp, and sinister as it gets. Malcolm's choice of harpsichord auspiciously aids his approach; the unidentified instrument is much more intimate in scale than those used in every recording mentioned above. The action of its lower registers in particular often sounds like a slightly amplified clavichord.

Couperin

Filling out most of Disc 2 are selections composed by Rameau's earlier contemporary François Couperin, recorded in 1969. While Malcolm's performances here are admittedly somewhat more foursquare and ultimately less exciting than his Rameau, they always are expertly crafted and feature many inspired moments. I especially enjoyed Malcolm's treatment of "Les Fauvettes plaintives" from Couperin's Third Book, his sly keyboard banter being as imaginative, humorous, and delightful as anyone's.

Decca's engineers effectively capture all of the sonic richness and clarity of Malcolm's harpsichords (while there's no information regarding this in the notes, it certainly sounds as if Malcolm employed a different, more substantial instrument in 1969). Those who enjoyed this artist's performances during the LP era surely will want to reacquaint themselves with these inspired and heartfelt readings. Others new to Rameau, Couperin, or the French Baroque in general would do well to consider this worthy edition. John Greene, Classics Today

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Glasgow Herald, Aug 1985

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BACH: Missa in B minor · BWV 232
G. Enescu - conductor
Orchestra - The- Boyd Neel String Orchestra,
Choir - The BBC Chorus
Suzanne Danco - soprano
Kathleen Ferrier - contralto
Peter Pears - tenor
Bruce Boyce - baritone
Norman Walker - bass
Recording : July 17th, 1951
CD : BBC "Legends" BBCL 40087 - [Origine : Bande radio BBC]
Duration: 132'17

George Murnu comments (1999) are as follows:

"The official unlocking of the BBC sound archives bought to life a string of legendary recordings, none better than the present one. Enescu had a special affinity for Bach and indeed if one searches the catalogue of recordings that Enescu left us, Bach appears more often than any composer including Enescu himself. 1951, the year in which the recording was made, was the dawn of period instruments movements and shortly such esteemed groups as Concentus Musicus were about to come to life. Though the present recording is a modern instruments one, it uses a smaller orchestra and chorus than was the norm at that time and the tempi are livelier. Enescu was already interested in authenticity and in fact once had an argument with Pablo Casals about the phrasing of a passage from a Bach Partita. Certainly such details are important and those of you who prefer *only* period instruments should perhaps stay away from this recording. But anyone else should rush to hear it.

The soloists are wonderful: Danco, Ferrier, and Pears are in their splendid prime, Bruce Boyce sings "Et in Spiritum Sanctum" almost pathetically, putting meaning in every single word, and Norman Walker, who is not listed in the booklet, gives a fine reading of "Quoniam". Enescu's conducting is the stuff dreams are made of: he clearly loves the music and if today's listener may be shocked by the choice of tempi - which as I have said, are livelier than what was the norm at that time - as well as by the forward choral sound, the phrasing and warmth will keep one longing for more once the recording is finished. Just listen to these warm strings and oboes or to the delicate flutes! I have never heard the Boyd Neel Orchestra sounding better. One should not also forget the contributions of the instrumental soloists, notably George Malcolm at the continuo harpsichord.

"The weak part about the recording is the sound which is often muddy, no more than in "Quoniam" where the horn played by Dougls Moore is barely audible, though often better than that. Also the balances are a problem, notably the dynamics of the trumpets and drums...". Bach Cantatas.com

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These reflections are prompted by Joseph Horovitz's Jazz Harpsichord Concerto which he conducted in the Euston Road town hall with the Philomusica Orchestra and a distinguished soloist, George Malcolm. Mr. Horovitz's piece is in three movements and less than fifteen minutes long. I found most of it a tingling delight. The part-writ- ing and structure of the outer movements are J. S. Bach, with cheeky syncopations and neo- Ellington harmonies that work in as naturally as could be. The middle movement, a slow blues, is the usual purple smoulder, with a crackling, elegant cadenza. For want of a more independent second subject, the opening movement, in early sonata form, tails off rather. But the concerto as a whole, while not intended for a minute beyond its day and (perhaps) half-generation, is such a joy here and now that the mystery remains. Why isn't there a greater official demand for such ephemera? The audience fell for it in a way that suggests a LONG FELT WANT. What heightened their sub-euphoria was the dim, trudg- ing piece that had gone before. Spectator, Charles Reid (1966)

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Klemperer's Brandenburgs, London 1960

Klemperer's performances here stand up well to such repetition all day. The performances are considerably less demonstrative than in the 1946 set, and some of the most forthright that I know. The music goes along seemingly under its own power: unhurried, buoyant, and with very clear contrapuntal texture (both in performance and recording). Klemperer doesn't make any effects, but lets Bach make them. It never really whips the blood up to a froth, but neither is it boring. It goes along easily in a way that grows on me. It sounds relaxed and clean, not overly cautious, not always exactly together, but so clear and so REAL.

Critics haven't liked this, though. Peter Heyworth (in his Klemperer bio, volume 2) reports: "A programme on 4 December [1960] consisting of the six Brandenburg Concertos drew especially heavy fire. The Times (5 December) described Klemperer's readings as 'a curious mixture of modern loyalty to history and traditional suet pudding'. On the one hand, he had used an appropriately small band and one player per part in Nos. 3 and 6. As against that, he had preferred flutes to recorders in Nos. 2 and 4, and the harpsichord continuo had been so over-amplified that it had sounded as though played on the treble register of a modern grand piano. The only trills permitted were those written out by Bach himself. There were massive rallentandi. 'Much of the music', concluded The Times, 'sounded humdrum, or uncharacteristic of Bach's thought as our age conceives it.' Attempts by the harpsichord player, George Malcolm, to decorate the continuo part met with Klemperer's fierce disapproval." (He's quoted as saying "Not to joke with Bach Mr Malcolm"!)
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To fill up my second tape I made it into a George Malcolm theme: he is the harpsichord soloist in Brandenburg 5, and I had another record of him playing the hpsi concertos 1&2 with Munchinger, and a solo record of the D major toccata and Italian Concerto. (That latter LP has been one of my favorites for a long time: it also includes the Chromatic F&F and the French Suite 5; and the CD issue has some other bonbons as well. Malcolm's playing is way out of fashion now, but boy is it exciting...the way he uses those swell shutters and quick registration changes with the pedals on his harpsichord...and his sometimes extremely precipitous tempos...golly!)
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Brad's description of George Malcolm's playing is accurate. Several decades ago George Malcolm recorded the Goldberg Variations on a 2-LP set on L'Oiseau-Lyre which was my favorite for many years. I believe it was the first recording with the repeats observed. I don't have the album notes handy so I can't recall the instrument, but I always liked the dramatic ways he alternated between the highly contrasted manuals. This recording was never transferred to CDs, to my knowledge. I wish it would be, because I should like Goldberg addicts to hear it if not admire it.

George Malcolm (27 Jan 1978, Queen Elizabeth Hall) gave yet another of his brilliantly orchestrated displays of Goble wizardry in a programme of Scarlatti sonatas, but it was noticeable that a greater simplicity of gesture and registration has crept into his playing in recent years, particularly in the slower pieces.
Early Music Gazette

Among recent budget-priced issues I recommend Handel's Concerti Grossi Op.3 played by the Northern Sinfonia of England conducted by George Malcolm in ASV's excellent Quicksilva series. These six concertos first appeared in 1734, though much of the music dates from a long time before; even so, and accepting that the Opus 6 set of 12 concertos surpasses them and ranks among the peaks of eighteenth-century works in this form, Opus 3 is also full of music to enjoy, especially when it is as well played and recorded as it is here under one of the leading specialists in the music of this period (ZCQS 6024,MC; CDQS 6024,CD). John Lade, The Tablet (1988)

The Water Music is steady and won’t rock the boat. The Fireworks Music is less than explosive. The concerti grossi are quite nice, but comparisons with later and more imaginative recordings (that happen to be on period instruments) is inevitable. This boxed set may be a bargain, but I don’t anticipate listening to many of these discs again. The oboe concerti are instantly forgettable, although perhaps the organ concerti fare best: George Malcolm’s organ solos are fresh and attractively delivered, and the inclusion of the flamboyant sonata from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno is a gratifying extra.
Handel Orchestral Works ASMF - David Vickers

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