Balbastre: Pièces de clavecin

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COMPOSERS: Balbastre
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Pièces de clavecin
PERFORMER: Sophie Yates (harpsichord)

Pupil of Rameau, teacher of Marie-Antoinette, Claude-Bénigne Balbastre was one of the last of the illustrious French harpsichordists of the 18th century before the French Revolution silenced their rarefied musical language. His harpsichord works are perfumed evocations of an exquisite world: picturesque character pieces; felicitous portraits of courtiers, artists and patrons; rustic country dances with faux pastoral effects and idealised imitations of peasant folk music.
Sophie Yates is a flawless interpreter, fully au fait with the distinctive rhythms, embellishments and etiquette of French rococo style. This is poised, tightly controlled playing, animated with a subtle understanding of contemporary dances, from the Italianate gig to the courtly French gavotte. Yates’s lithe technique is on fine display in ‘La Suzanne’, all glittering trills and scales, in the dramatic flourishes of ‘La de Caze’ and the fiddly finger-work of ‘La Bellaud’.
The harpsichord is Andrew Garlick’s copy of a 1748 original by the Parisian maker Jean-Claude Goujon – a gorgeous, highly responsive instrument, its sound luxuriously warm (and beautifully reproduced here); its varied colours luminous. Even listeners who think, as Sir Thomas Beecham famously did, that the harpsichord resembles ‘a bird-cage played with toasting forks’ will surely be seduced by its beauty. Kate Bolton