Collection: A French Collection

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: A-L Couperin,Balbastre,Corrette,Duphly,Marchand,Royer
LABELS: Paradizo
WORKS: Works by Marchand, Duphly, A-L Couperin, Balbastre, Corrette, Royer
PERFORMER: Skip Sempé (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: PA 0007

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In the salons of pre-revolutionary France, great composer-keyboardists entranced habitués with sublime music. This was a world where refined raptures – fire, tenderness, nobility, languor – were expressed in a caractère piece for harpsichord. Often a dance, or bearing the inscription of a personal name (‘La Suzanne’), such works were designed for virtuoso performance.

Depth of sentiment, perfection of execution, extremes of contrast and an apparently carefree playing style were tenets of a repertory whose masters Duphly, Balbastre, and Royer are almost unknown today.

Skempé’s evocation of this sound world is unsurpassed. His inventiveness is immense and vibrant, encompassing extreme tempos, aching lyricism, and delicate hesitations. On this disc his performing genius culminates in the show-stopping Marches des scythes, a rondeau whose improvisatory episodes unravel our sense of structure: each brings surprises, as we pass from terse chords through fantasia-style arpeggios to unexpected silence to a frenzy in which playful gestures become demonic. The intensity of Skempé’s delivery leaves this listener breathless.

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As the label’s director, his perfectionism is evident in all aspects of this recording, notably in the programming and sound reproduction. Contrasting pieces are optimally balanced, and the engineer captures each nuance of interpretation and timbre; particularly gratifying is the warmth of the instrument’s lower register. This is an inspired disc, capable of converting any listener to the repertory. Berta Joncus