Review By Charlotte Mattax Moersch,Early Music America,October 2010
Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1727–1799) was one of the most celebrated French harpsichord composers of his time. As Elizabeth Farr writes in her informative liner notes, Balbastre was a student of Jean-Philippe Rameau and Pierre Février in Paris. He performed to great acclaim in the Concert Spirituel, the famous Parisian concert series, and was lauded as well by Charles Burney in his The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771). Writing in the years preceding the French Revolution, Balbastre published his Pièces de clavecin in 1759. As was the fashion of the time, his pieces are musical portraits dedicated to friends, patrons, and other members of the nobility; together they offer a virtual social history of the ancien . This recording features the 17 pieces contained in that volume, as well as a handful of works chosen from Livre contenant des pieces de different genre d’orgue et de clavecin of 1749 (Versailles manuscript 264). Other works complete this two-CD set, including Balbastre’s transcriptions of four movements from Rameau’s opera Pygmalion and the well-known ‘Marche des Marseillois et l’air Ça-ira,” composed in 1792 and based on the most popular patriotic tunes of post revolutionary France.
Elizabeth Farr, associate professor of harpsichord and organ at the University of Colorado, captures at once Balbastre’s grandeur, brilliance, and charm. In this unique recording, Farr plays a large harpsichord with 1x16’, 2x8’, 1x4’, and two buff stops. The sheer power of the 16’ makes a stunning effect in such pieces as “La de Caze” and “La Suzanne” and contrasts with the delicacy of the two buff stops, used to be charming effect in the Gavotte Rondeau in G minor, among others. An award-winning keyboardist, Farr plays with delicacy, nuance, and dazzling virtuosity, giving new life to these wonderful works.