The highlight of Vivienne Spiteri’s fascinating and finely executed new CD comes in the final third of the recording, with two pieces for harpsichord and—wait for it—banjo! Within fifteen seconds my initial scepticism of this unlikely combination evaporated. It is clear that Spiteri has conjured some magic from composers John Beckwith and Kirk Elliot to create gloriously imaginative works that are simultaneously playful and serious. The sound engineering of these works shows a keen understanding of the relationships between composition, performance, and the medium. Subtle shifts in microphone placement and panning serve to articulate the structure and drama of the music and are never used for simple effect. The CD is sonically more dry than most CDs, but this showcases the harpsichord’s natural resonance and creates an enjoyable intimacy with the performers and the music.
Linda Bouchard’s Swift Silver is a rhythmic and highly evocative miniature for harpsichord, harmonium, and celeste, and though the CD’s three opening pieces by Hope Lee, Bruce Mather, and (again) John Beckwith are more concerned with tone and atmosphere than dramatic narrative, they are all beautifully crafted and expertly performed by Spiteri in collaboration with Joseph Macerollo (accordion), Lawrence Beckwith (violin), and Sharlene Wallace (lever harp). Jalsaghar is an outstanding musical journey offered by one of Canada’s most imaginative musical mavericks.