Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Claude Bé nigne BALBASTRE (1727-1799)
Pièces de Clavecin - Premier Livre (1759) [67.10]
Ursula Duetschler - 18th century French Harpsichord by Couchet-Blanchet-Taskin
rec. April 1992, Musée de Chartres, France
CLAVES CD 50-9206 [67.10]
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French Baroque harpsichord music is one of those artistic areas that would help the world to be a better place if everybody had an appreciation for it. That the reign of the Sun King should have produced such a quantity and consistent quality of musical activity is hardly surprising given the enlightened environment and associated available wealth which permeated the French court throughout the 18th century. That it is still not appreciated as much as other keyboard music is a shame. The works of Couperin and Rameau are reasonably well known to the general public of listeners, but they were the only two composers of French keyboard music whom posterity has chosen to elevate. The harpsichord was the instrument par excellence in France throughout the 18th century and there was hardly a composer in the kingdom who did not turn his skill to keyboard writing. Many composers specialised in it to a greater or lesser degree, and amongst this band of performer/composers Claude Bénigne Balbastre certainly deserves greater recognition in our times. His music exploits all the features of the great French harpsichords, combining a purity of sound quality from a single melodic line with the tremendously exciting possibilities of thrumming bass strings in a ‘musette’ and the sheer volume obtainable from both manuals coupled in an exciting Fiè rement et marqué.

This disc, recorded in 1992, shows us a young Ursula Duetschler. She is now an established virtuoso, possibly better known for her fortepiano work, but it was as a harpsichordist that she first came to wider attention by winning the International Harpsichord Competition in Paris in 1989. In this recording she is playing one of the finest and most individual harpsichords to survive from the period; attributed to Blanchet, restored by Couchet and rebuilt by the great Pascal Taskin in 1778. The character of this harpsichord, and the tremendous vibrancy and depth in the quality of its sound are well captured here. It is the dramatic and powerful moments that achieve the most impressive effects, from both instrument and player [Sample 1] although this is not to minimise the impact of beauty that Duetschler creates in the more gentle pieces. These also benefit greatly from the seemingly silk-covered fleshiness of the sound of this fine harpsichord. [Sample 2] Duetschler never allows an edge of harshness, even in the most vigorous passages. Her articulation, so important to phrase, dialogue and timbre at the harpsichord is always carefully judged and flawlessly executed.

The Harpsichord is tuned throughout this programme in Kirnberger III. Equal temperament such as is used on the modern piano was not popular at this time and such temperaments as Kirnberger’s create an hierarchy of keys in which some are perfectly tuned while more remote keys are correspondingly wide of perfection. [By comparison, in equal temperament every key is slightly out of tune by the same degree - thus all keys are equally usable, but none is perfectly in tune.] The Kirnberger tuning is popular in our times and gives most pieces in this programme a pleasing warmth, but it is not good in some keys and Track 9 ‘De la Caze’ is too far from the ‘good’ keys to be pleasant. [Sample 3] It strikes this writer as somewhat strange that the German Kirnberger system was used. French instruments generally were tuned to one of several Tempéraments Ordinaire, which would generally be slightly less harsh in the obscure keys. No explanation as to the choice is given in the booklet.

Balbastre, like most of his contemporaries was writing music for entertainment, whether of listeners or just the player. This resulted in both the eschewing of large scale forms such as were popular in the Germanic lands, and in the creation of portrait pieces depicting passions, manners or individuals. The imaginative variety that composers were able to bring to bear on these relatively small structures sometimes defies belief. In a recital programme devoted to the music of a single composer, there can be few more interesting choices than composers of the French baroque, and Balbastre is as fecund in his variety as any of them. Paired with playing of imagination and considerable virtuoso flair, it makes this disc an excellent recital choice.

Peter Wells

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La Boullongne
La Castelmore
La D'Hericourt
La Courteille
La Bellaud
La Lamarck
La Berville
La Ludeac
La De Caze
La Segur
La Monmartel Ou La Brunoy
La Suzanne
La Genty
La Malesherbe
La Berryer
La Laporte
La Morisseau

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