Notes and Editorial Reviews
Top of the pile for these Pièces.
Impressed by Sophie Yates’ recording of J.C. Bach and a long-time fan of French baroque/rococo harpsichord music, it didn’t take much to persuade me to try this CD. I had previously known Claude-Bénigne Balbastre through his fine Suites de Noël, and while there are a few recordings of his harpsichord music about it does seem he is still very much in the shadow of names such as Couperin and Rameau. This magnificent recording from Chandos may go some way towards shifting him closer to the mainstream.
Sophie Yates plays a double manual instrument built in 1996 by Andrew Garlick, who also tuned it for this recording. It is a copy of a 1748 French harpsichord
by Jean-Claude Goujon which is now housed in the collection of the Musée de la Musique at the Paris Conservatoire. Not everyone warms to the sound of the harpsichord these days, but this instrument has a rich bass and while clear and detailed in the recorded balance isn’t too sharp in the treble. The articulation of the plucked strings has an even feel, and there is no question of rattling mechanism or unnatural jangle. The acoustic of St George’s in Bristol is perfect: just lively enough to give the instrument an extra layer of richness without taking away any of the crispness of the sound.
As Yates capably describes in her booklet notes, these
Pièces de clavecin represent an example of the last flowering of both the harpsichord as an instrument – soon to be taken on and beaten by the fortepiano – and the era of royal patronage which would be overrun by the revolution of 1789. As is typical for music of the period, these are
pièces de charactère, each named descriptively or for the personality of a known individual. This provides the necessary contrast within the programme as a whole, for example with delicate two-part writing in something like
La Berville sandwiched between the thicker textures and repeated chords of
La Lamarck, and the dancing gigue of
La Lugeac, which recalls why Balbastre’s rollicking organ works became so popular he had to be forbidden from playing at church services, such were the crowds who turned up to hear him perform. There is a wide variety of styles, from the dances mentioned, via pastoral pieces such as the
Air Champêtre of
La Castelmore and virtuoso showstoppers such as the incredible
La Suzanne. Sophie Yates performs all of these with a sensitive ear for contrast and context, and I defy anyone not instantly allergic to the harpsichord to become bored. The ‘blue note’ dissonance in
La Genty is great fun for instance. There is a Mozartean touch in the Alberti bass features of
La Bellaud and the opening of
La Malesherbe, which takes some surprising harmonic turns with an otherwise almost naively simple
Air theme, and then kicks into a ‘bacchanalian whirl’ when you least expect it.
As previously mentioned, competition isn’t particularly hot for this repertoire, and with a recording by Jean-Patrice Brosse on the Pierre Verany label, another on the Claves label by Ursula Duetschler, and Elizabeth Farr on Naxos, there doesn’t seem to be much else around. With such a fine recording and performance, and such a well prepared and sympathetic sounding instrument this disc has to go to the top of the pile as a first choice for these Pièces.
-- Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International
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