DYLAN SAUERWALD, Harpsichord Polyphemus Solo Series February 17, 2018
I first heard the name Dylan Sauerwald several years ago from a friend in Boston who told me to keep an eye out for this talented young harpsichordist and music director. Dylan has since moved to New York City, and I finally had a chance to get to hear him play solo harpsichord last night at a house concert in his elegant apartment in the financial district, just off Wall Street. This was something of an experiment on his part; he’s given several recitals under the auspices of Groupmuse, but this was an event he and his wife arranged on their own, inviting Facebook friends—and even friends of the flesh-and-blood variety—as his guests, capping the number of audience members at 20. Unfortunately, a few hours before the recital was to begin, we heard dire predictions of a messy snowstorm threatening to hit the city, so several people canceled at the last minute. It’s a pity for them, as well as for Dylan, since they missed a delightful evening. A table spread with delicacies greeted guests as they entered, and various concert-related drinks were on offer, the theme of the evening being Vienna. I had a glass of delicious Austrian red wine, Neusiedlersee, which as a lutenist I could hardly resist. (Hans and Melchior Neusidler, after all, were prominent 16th-century lute composers and players.) Those fortunate enough to have experienced a Capriccio Baroque event in DC will recognize some of the same musico-gastronomic attractions at both events. The evening’s instrument was a handsome single-manual harpsichord based on 17th-century Italian models, built by Owen Daly in 2017, with goose quill and brass strings, tuned in quarter-comma meantone. I can think of few makers whose instruments match Owen’s for strong personality and individual timbre. I’ll be curious, however, to hear how this harpsichord matures; it’s still very young, and I expect changes over the next five years, but right now it has rich sonics with a wide spectrum of overtones. I mentioned that Vienna was the theme of the evening, so it was no surprise that the two composers whose works we heard, Johann Kaspar Kerll (1627-1693) and Georg Muffat (1653-1704), both spent time at the Viennese court. But they also traveled widely and picked up varied influences during their travels. Kerll’s works, for example, showed his familiarity with Italian music of the day; he studied with Carissimi and was once thought to have studied with Frescobaldi. The works that Dylan played—Toccata, Canzona, a short Ciaccona, and a virtuosic Passacaglia—were very much in the Italian vein, though the Canzona, as Dylan pointed out, got moving immediately with a busy subject instead of the usual long-short-short motive. The pieces by Muffat, by contrast, showed the composer’s debt to French training and French taste (which to my ears extended into the French lute aesthetic), as well as a desire to join the Gallic and Italian styles, as Couperin and Bach were to do more famously later in the baroque era. From Muffat we heard a Ciaccona followed by a Partita with the four standard movements, though the gigue was a Gigue Anglois, and some “bonus” pieces thrown in (Ballet and two Menuets), ending with a long and adventurous Passacaglia (or passacaglia-rondeau), which showed off Dylan’s fleet fingers and the instrument’s tangy sound, made all the more piquant by the meantone tuning. As Dylan himself noted, that temperament is put to the test with this piece; the dissonances, modulations, and false relations get pretty raunchy and might make you wonder: “Is that how it’s supposed to sound?” A lively discussion on that subject—as well as on music, art, and history in general—followed the recital, with topics ranging from Italo Calvino to Hans Memling to Shakespeare and beyond, which gave the living room a cultivated atmosphere recalling the gatherings in Castiglione’s Urbino. I have to say I enjoyed the intimate atmosphere and our host’s sophisticated harpsichord playing and look forward to hearing more of him. On that note, I’ll mention that the harpsichord leaves its home for a few days in preparation for a performance of Caccini’s Euridice this weekend, February 23–25, performed by Dorian Baroque at The Alchemical Studios (104 West 14th Street) and conducted by Dylan.
More information at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1783468191955214/