Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Music for Harpsichord

Elizabeth Farr

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Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Music for Harpsichord Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr has been hitting a series of bull's eyes in her series of discs for Naxos, no doubt aided by the extraordinary sound of the Keith Hill instruments she has been utilizing in these recordings. In Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Music for Harpsichord, Farr turns her attention to one of the last holdouts of the French harpsichord school, Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, a favorite of the aristocracy who managed to avoid the guillotine through composing music that celebrated the French Revolution. Although these characteristics are the ones that fit best in an elevator speech about Balbastre, he enjoyed a long career lasting nearly 50 years, and this recital visits all of his relevant periods in considerable detail. In keeping with the French harpsichord tradition, Balbastre organizes into suites musical portraits named after people within his sphere of influence, but these are not pithy little bon mots in the manner of François Couperin, but are often long works generally averaging 4-8 minutes. The disc also includes a Balbastre-made transcription of movements drawn from his master Jean-Philippe Rameau's ballet Pygmalion, and these have a big, nearly orchestral sound. The Hill harpsichord Farr plays here has a towering presence and resonance, but Farr has the right idea about how to voice this music utilizing the considerable sonic resources that the Hill instrument provides. One is concerned that the obscurity of the name and the length and breadth of the repertoire presented here might limit the potential audience for Naxos' Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Music for Harpsichord; however, anyone interested in Domenico Scarlatti and Rameau should very much enjoy this release.

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