The French Harpsichord
Felix Ardanaz (harpsichord)
rec. 2010, details of venue not provided
ORPHEUS OR3906-1811 [70:20]

I enjoy French baroque music immensely and have discs of harpsichord music by all the composers presented here. I was therefore looking forward to listening to this well filled and attractively packaged disc. It offers the listener, on paper at least, a good introduction to the keyboard music of the period. As an introduction it works well, although for me the order and choice of the pieces presented is a bit questionable. It opens with a series of relatively slow pieces, two of them in minor keys. This does not grab the listener and hold his or her attention. This is a shame as overall what we have here is a nicely performed recital, just badly planned.

The disc opens with a Pavane from the first really important member of the Couperin family. Louis Couperin was the first of the seven members of the Couperin family — The French answer to the Bach dynasty — to hold the honoured position of organist at the Church Saint-Gervais in Paris. The Pavane is played here a little slowly for my liking, especially when you consider that Skip Sempé manages it in just over six minutes (Alpha 066), with this new version hardly serving to draw the listener in. On the plus side, it is a bit quicker than Christophe Rousset’s performance (Aparte AP006), but not by much.

Next comes the D’Anglebert, a composer known to have been an influence on J.S. Bach. The Prelude is played well enough, though I do prefer Rousset’s interpretation (458 588-2). Its inclusion just begs the question of why only the Prelude. After all D’Anglebert has often been described as the most notable French keyboard composer before François Couperin.

François Couperin is arguably the greatest of all French harpsichord composers, if not baroque keyboard composers in general. One has only has to look at his four great books, or Livre de Pieces de Clavecin, to see this. So to include L’art de toucher le clavecin is very interesting, or it would be if Felix Ardanaz had included the final piece, the D minor Allemande. Its omission is baffling. Christophe Rousset performs the piece in 1:21 in his magnificent set of the complete harpsichord works (HMX 2901442.52), and it is not as if there wasn’t enough time to include it on the disc.

One of the greatest keyboard virtuosi of his day, Louis Marchand tends to be remembered for the scandals he became embroiled in or the harpsichord competition with J.S. Bach when he fled Dresden before Bach’s arrival, rather than play his music. The Chaconne, from the composer’s first book of harpsichord pieces, fully displays Marchand’s ability as a composer, with its intricate ornamentations pointing to his prowess. I prefer this performance to that by Huguette Grémy-Chauliac (FYCD 055), who shaves nearly a minute off that of Ardanaz, and as a result sounds a little too rushed in comparison.

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was something of a child prodigy and gave her first performance before Louis XIV before she was about five years old. She went on to live in the house of Madame de Montespan, the King’s favourite, so that she could perform before the court. The booklet notes refer to her Suite of pieces from 1707, although the pieces here are clearly from the earlier Suite in D minor which dates from 1687. Here again, the Suite is incomplete. Carole Cersi, in her wonderful recording of the Suite (Met CD 1026) includes eight pieces rather than the five presented here. Why are those other three pieces omitted?

For many people Jean-Philippe Rameau is the epitome of the French baroque, and I would probably include myself in that number. He made great strides in the development of keyboard music in France and even had his own harpsichord adapted. It’s a pity that he is represented here by just the one short, but wonderful piece.

Antoine Forqueray is another giant of French harpsichord music, although you wouldn’t believe it from the recordings available. Both Luc Beauséjour (8.553407) and Sophie Yates (CHAN 0545) only present the final four movements of the fifth suite. Here Ardanaz gives us the full seven movement suite, and should be applauded for that fact alone. He then goes on to give a wonderful performance.

The disc ends with La de Drummond, a short piece from Jacques Duphly’s Fourth Book of harpsichord pieces. Dying at the beginning of the French Revolution, Duphly is often regarded as the last of the French harpsichord composers. In an echo of the demise of the royal court, the patronage, so important in the development of French music disappeared. In the hands of Ardanaz the piece sounds much more tender and charming than in the recording by Jean-Patrice Brosse (PV704031) where comes across as a lively affair.

This is a good introduction to French harpsichord music, but as highlighted, I do question the inclusions of the majority of suites of music but not the complete work. That being said, this is a good disc, especially if you can get past the slow, minor key pieces at the start the disc. The performances by Ardanaz are good overall with some very fine playing at times, although I still think that Christophe Rousset is the man to beat in this repertoire. The harpsichord sounds a fine instrument and is recorded well. The notes are good, apart from the error highlighted above.

Stuart Sillitoe

Louis COUPERIN (1626-1661)
Pavane in F sharp minor [8:30]
Jean-Henri D’ANGLEBERT (1629-1691)
Suite No. 3 in D minor: Prelude [4:18]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
L’art de toucher le clavecin (The art of playing the harpsichord) (1716)
1. Prelude I in C Major [1:13]
2. Prelude II in D minor [1:31]
3. Prelude III in G minor [0:59]
4. Prelude IV in F Major [1:25]
5. Prelude V in A Major [2:28]
6. Prelude VI in D minor [1:29]
7. Prelude VII in B Flat Major [2:24]
8. Prelude VIII in E minor [1:16]
Louis MARCHAND (1669-1732)
Chaconne in D minor [4:14]
Elisabeth Jacquet de la GUERRE (1665-1729)
Suite No. 1 in D minor
1. Prelude [2:27]
2. Allemande [3:19]
3. Courante [2:02]
4. Sarabande [3:25]
5. Gigue [2:14]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1702-1766)
La Dauphine (1747) [3:01]
Antoine FORQUERAY (1681-1757)
Suite No. 5 in C minor
1. La Rameau. Majesteusement [3:35]
2. La Guignon. Vivement et détaché [4:32]
3. La Léon. Sarabande [3:36]
4. La Boisson. Vivement, les pinches bien soutenus [4:22]
5. La Montigni. Galamment sans lenteur [3:31]
6. La Sylva. Très tendrement [4:53]
7. Jupiter. Modérément [4:42]
Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789)
La de Drummond [3:51]

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