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The Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková, who died in 2017 at age 90, was a valiant advocate for her instrument, especially in modern works by Martinů and De Falla, as well as those by her husband, the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis. A high-flying adventurous spirit, wit and fearlessness characterise Růžičková’s playing of this repertory.

In the heartfelt documentary film included in this release, she credits the music of Bach with allowing her to survive harrowing imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. After the war, an oppressive Communist regime in her homeland caused further stress, although she was permitted to tour and record, most prominently a set of Bach’s keyboard works reprinted on 20 CDs in 2017 (Erato 9029593044). Růžičková’s verve and intellect are never in doubt in these recordings made in Paris and Prague from 1965 to 1973. Yet inevitably she was a musician of her time, and as a harpsichordist was particularly affected by 20th-century developments in performance practice for Early Music.

Most harpsichordists of Růžičková’s era had to confront over-heavy, acerbic-sounding instruments. The UK’s George Malcolm was a happy exception, always managing to find light-textured harpsichords captured blithely on recordings that still afford pleasure. By comparison, the German Ammer and J C Neupert instruments allotted to Růžičková sound heavy, dull and over-emphatic in Bach’s Capriccio ‘On the Departure of the Beloved Brother’, in addition to being oddly recorded in 1965 for the Fantasia BWV 906. Even remastering cannot remedy these issues and despite her deft playing, Růžičková sounds infinitely more at home in modern works or recitals with the legendary Czech violinist Josef Suk.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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