There were many worlds in George Malcolm’s (1917–1997) universe – organist, harpsichordist, pianist, composer, choral director and conductor – and this one demonstrates his unique skill as a solo performer who, throughout his career, more than any other individual defined the harpsichord’s identity in England. After World War II Malcolm became the most famous English harpsichordist of his day, with a brilliant technique, superb musicianship and an idiosyncratically modern approach to playing which, for his audiences, came to exemplify the very nature of the instrument itself. In celebration of the centenary of his birth (28 February 1917).
Bach’s last work, The Art of Fugue, left unfinished at his death, has been shown by many scholars and performers to have been composed for the keyboard, although the first printed edition of 1751 presented the piece in open score, which led to its being mistaken for an ensemble work. Scholars Donald Francis Tovey and Heinrich Husmann, working in the 1930s, and harpsichordists Isolde Ahlgrimm and Gustav Leonhardt in the 1950s, firmly established the work as a harpsichord piece (pedal harpsichord, in Ahlgrimm’s case). However, in his 1964 recording Malcolm directed his colleagues of the Philomusica of London (an outgrowth of the Boyd Neel String Orchestra, founded in the 1930s) in English conductor Leonard Isaacs’s 1952 arrangement of the work for strings and winds (with some participation by Malcolm as harpsichordist). Leonard Isaacs (1909–1997) was, like Malcolm, a piano student of Herbert Fryer at the Royal College of Music.
Notes are by Peter Watchorn, an Australian-born, US-based harpsichordist, one of whose teachers, Harold Lobb, was also an associate of Malcolm. In Watchorn’s opinion, Malcolm’s greatest (and often over-looked) concerto recording was that of BWV 1052 and 1053 recorded in 1963 in Stuttgart with Münchinger’s celebrated chamber orchestra.
“I give first prize to a record which took me out of my usual field: George Malcolm’s magnificent performance of Bach’s great Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D minor,” Gramophne Critic´s Choice 1964
“[a] finely directed performance … [Malcolm’s] instrumentalists are superb, so good that their playing and the variety of sounds sometimes diverted my attention from the amazing working of Bach’s mind!” (The Art of Fugue) Gramophone 1965
“this inspired harpsichord performance … superb skill and musical insight by George Malcolm … What a work and what a performance! And what a recording too” (Harpsichord Concertos) Gramophone 1964