No apologies are needed for this remarkable testament to the keyboard virtuosity and compositional skills of five late eighteenth-century European women (although it is strange not to find the best-known female harpsichordist, Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, among them). Their champion is an American, Barbara Harbach, a dynamic and rhetorical player who is also an acknowledged interpreter -- and, indeed, muse -- of modern harpsichord music.
The pieces from Elisabetta de Gambarini's Op. 2 collection, published in London in 1740, are the earliest to be included. They are intensely idiomatic, vigourous and not without a certain wit. The opening Minuet and closing Gavotte and Giga incorporate gymnastic variations; and the Tambourin might well be mistaken for modern jazz syncopations.
Cecilia Maria Barthelemon's E major Sonata reveals a flair for the dramatic -- no doubt a reflection of her musical-theatrical family life (her parents, French and English, worked in London and Dublin)-- with its reliance upon octaves, scale passages, drones and, in the case of the Rondo finale, almost comic false endings. Interestingly, her father, Francois-Hippolyte Barthelemon, is usually credited with having introduced the concerto rondo finale to Paris audiences in 1770, the year of her birth. According to the booklet, this Sonata is the third of Op. 1; her Op. 3 Sonata was dedicated in 1794 to Haydn, who was then on his second visit to England and to whom the Op. 1 Sonata is greatly indebted. Harbach cleverly conveys the logic of the internal structure of the movements and the načvety of their themes, but takes the Larghetto a shade to slowly.
Marianne Martinez is outstanding among the composers represented here. Austrian, a friend of Metastasio, pupil of Haydn and Porpora, and honorary member of the Bolognese Accademia Filarmonica, Martinez later presided over an important Viennese music salon, where she is said once to have played four-hand sonatas with Mozart. Her two sonatas are finely crafted and infused with wit; Harbach performs them with intelligence and conviction. Among their delights are the first movements: the E major is characterized by ornamented clarion calls, while the A major's filigree right-hand part is effectively set against a repeated note accompaniment.