BALBASTRE Music for Harpsichord = Pieces de clavecin, Book I, Livre contenant des pieces (excerpts); La d’Esclignac; Prelude; Marche des Marseillois et l’air Ca-ira; RAMEAU (Arr. Balbastre): Pygmalion (excerpts) – Elizabeth Farr – Naxos

by | Feb 16, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

CLAUDE-BENIGNE BALBASTRE: Music for Harpsichord = Pieces de clavecin, Book I, Livre contenant des pieces de different genre d’orgue et de clavecin (excerpts); La d’Esclignac; Prelude; Marche des Marseillois et l’air Ca-ira; RAMEAU (Arr. Balbastre): Pygmalion (excerpts) – Elizabeth Farr, harpsichord – Naxos 8.572034-35 (2 CDs), 150:11 *****:

The first attraction that might catch an audiophile’s ear here is the gorgeous wide-range sound of the 16’-stop harpsichord built by Keith Hill according to the design of the 18th century Ruckers harpsichord. Balbastre’s music just seems to cry out for the bass support of the 16’ stop, yet no French harpsichords from his time survive. The augmentation of the usual 8’ and 4’ stops of most harpsichords with the 16’ adds a wonderful richness to the music.

And some fine music it is too. Balbastre was one of the most celebrated keyboardists and composers of the French regime, and he survived the French Revolution – though not in the style to which he had been accustomed. While his charming works are thoroughly in the French harpsichord tradition of the period, he also brought in a strong Italian influence – especially that of Domenico Scarlatti.  Balbastre studied composition with Rameau – which helps explain his arrangements of Rameau’s ballet music. Among his own later pupils were Thomas Jefferson’s daughters during their visit to France.

The opening harpsichord pieces Book I are musical character portraits of 17 personalities of the time. The Livre contenant contains 75 works, 24 of them specifically listed for the harpsichord. Balbastre also wrote works for the organ and fortepiano.  Following the Revolution he composed patriotic works embracing the principles of the revolution, including the closing march on the second CD which incorporates both the Marseillaise theme and the popular revolutionary song Ca-ira (We will win).

Performer Farr specializes in keyboard music for the 17th and 18th centuries, and has previously recorded for Naxos Bach’s works for lute-harpsichord, and suites for harpsichord by both de la Guerre and D’Anglebert.

— John Sunier

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