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La Superbe - French Harpsichord Music from the 18th Century
Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Pièces de Clavecin (suite en ut majeur) [16:30]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Pièces de Clavecin, Troisième Livre, Dixseptième Ordre [13:39]
Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789)
Pièces de Clavecin, Troisième Livre (1758)* [24 :11]
Albert-Jan Roelofs (harpsichord)
Elisabeth Wallfisch (violin)*
rec. Maria Minor, Utrecht, 15-16 June 2004
Private recording [54:23]
Experience Classicsonline

This CD has already been reviewed on these pages, and I can most certainly agree with the comments on the recording. Jan Kalsbeek’s instruments have come across well on all of Albert-Jan Roelof’s recordings to date (see my reviews of his Art of Fugue and various works on four different Kalsbeek instruments), and this is no exception. Brilliance of tone tops off some rich sonorities in this fairly closely miked recording, which is one that I find I could listen to for a long time.
Louis-Nicolas Clérambault’s Pièces de Clavecin appeared in around 1704, and show his great ability to write elegantly embellished and expressive melodies. These Pièces range from the characterful Prélude non mesuré in the style of his predecessors Louis Couperin and Henry d’Anglebert, to more traditional dance forms such as the Allemande and Gavotte with the addition of ornamental variations in the 17th century style. The criticism has been levelled that these movements are less inspired in terms of performance, but I suspect that Roelofs is being faithful to the performance practice which actually allows dancing – maintaining a stability of tempo that would keep the formal passes and exchanges moving along nicely.
Francois Couperin, called his keyboard Suites Ordres, and used the framework of familiar dance forms used to conjure up the character of a person or event. In the 17th Ordre his subjects include an affectionate portrait of his contemporary Antoine Forqueray. There are also Les Petits Moulins à vent or ‘Little Windmills’, toys which certainly did exist at the time, as paintings by Watteau and others illustrate. Les Timbres which follow seem to imitate the little chimes of a clock or music box. The final movement is called Les Petites Crémières de Bagnolet in which the repetitive chattering among milkmaids in the Parisian suburb of Bagnolet is amplified by Couperin’s gentle satire.
Little is known of Jacques Duphly, whose entire harpsichord works were published in four books or Livre. Duphly’s musical portraits include an interesting comparison in another La Forqueray, which includes the characteristic imitative melodic fragments and fake polyphony, but is less technically adventurous than that of Couperin. The key, F minor, is described by Albert-Jan Roelofs as “very expressive!” which euphemistically means it sounds dreadfully out of tune to our ears, being quite a remote key for the temperament of the instrument as it is tuned for the music of the day. The Chaconne shows Duphly in a more exploratory mood, exploiting all kinds of new keyboard techniques such as broken chords over several octaves and Alberti-basses. In the third ‘Livre’, Duphly also published 6 pieces for harpsichord with violin, probably as part of a drive to encourage chamber music in domestic setting and help with sales. In the Ouverture the violin plays in unison with the harpsichord, enhancing the expressiveness of its tone. In the other pieces, Duphly writes an obligato part for the violin to create some fascinating musical dialogue. Albert-Jan Roelofs and Elisabeth Wallfisch have performed regularly together, and show a fine synergy in this recording. As was more often the case in this period and right into the ‘classical’ age, the violin was in no way guaranteed a greater soloist’s role than the keyboard, and the deluge of notes over which Wallfisch’s tones have to peep are an ample illustration of this. This subservient role is taken well however, and I’m afraid I have to disagree with the comment about lack of ornamentation. There shouldn’t be too much on the unison passages in any case, and for the rest there’s plenty: any more would have had me criticising for ‘over-gilding’ of what is after all little more than a cameo Lilly. My only comment would be that the balance of the recording might have been greater in favour of the violin, but I suspect the engineers needed to maintain consistency with the solo set-up and volume for the rest of the programme, so you end up with solo harpsichord and added violin. The acoustic of the recorded location, a more or less hidden church right next to Utrecht’s main railway station, is not greatly in evidence due to the closeness of the recording, but again, I don’t find the balance particularly fatiguing.
This is once again a superbe example of very good playing on a marvellous instrument. The decoration on the booklet is also reproduced on the inside of the jewel case and the CD, which makes for something of a trompe l’oeil feast – topping off a very fine recording indeed.
Dominy Clements

see also review by Johan van Veen


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