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Benjamin Katz
American Record Guide, March 2009

Owing to its intimacy, the lute can be a particularly rich experience in recorded sound. The sound of the lute-player’s fingers on the fingerboard as well as the breath of the player, sometimes audible over the delicate sound of the lute, contribute to an atmosphere of heightened sensitivity. The lute-harpsichord, a harpsichord strung in gut to imitate its namesake, produces a similar effect when recorded. The flash and dazzle of the overtone-rich harpsichord sound can sometimes mask the sound of each note being released. The lute-harpsichord, softer in timbre and less rich in overtones, affords the player a subtle palette of dynamics dependent on how the quill falls back onto string after the key is released.

The harpsichord and lute repertoire were especially linked in 17th Century France and it is with this connection in mind that Elizabeth Farr has recorded Jean-Henry D’Anglebert’s harpsichord suites on both harpsichord and lute-harpsichord. The two instruments recorded here, both by Keith Hill, are extremely resonant. The treble register of Hill’s harpsichord is exceptionally beautiful. The two registers of the harpsichord are sometimes slightly out of tune with each other.

The frayed tone of the instruments lends a charming, unintended cinema verité feeling to the whole enterprise. Farr dutifully resists the temptation to wallow in the sound of Hill’s instruments at the expense of rhythmic momentum. Those familiar with the harpsichord repertoire will recognize the openings of the two D-minor sarabandes from Handel and Le Roux pieces in D and A minor.



Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, March 2009

Jean-Henry D’Anglebert (1629–1691) published only one book of his works, all of it for keyboard instruments, in 1689. It quickly became popular, appearing in a second, probably unauthorized edition, engraved in Amsterdam. Aside from the four suites that Farr has recorded here, it contained 15 dance transcriptions from Lully’s operas, four other transcriptions of anonymous origin, five fugues for organ on the same curiously angular subject, a Quatuor sur le Kyrie for organ, and a treatise on basso continuo. Though the composer wrote in his preface that he hoped to furnish at some future date existing works in other keys, they never found their way into print. More music written by D’Anglebert, however, has turned up in an autograph manuscript entitled Rés 89ter. It is believed to have been written largely in the composer’s hand, and includes 76 pieces, 54 of which are his transcriptions of lute music. Nine are earlier versions of his published works; four in C Major, were possibly meant for a second book; while the rest are pieces by Chambonnières, Louis Couperin, Marin and Richard Marais.

So what Naxos and Farr have provided here is all of D’Anglebert’s original, extant, and known music for harpsichord, minus the four pieces in C Major. It is almost uniformly of substantial quality, favoring polyphonic mastery and fanciful invention in a lute style brisé over the richer vertical textures and descriptive pieces of other, later French Baroque musicians. It also possesses an expressively melancholy intimacy that brings to mind at times François Couperin.

There are other links to Couperin le Grand, as well. The most important for our purposes was their mutual insistence upon notational faithfulness in performance, without changes to tempo, rhythm, or further ornamentation. Couperin wrote as much in the Preface to his first volume: “I have already added all the necessary ornaments, and I have observed the correct vertical alignment of the notes.” James R. Anthony, in turn, remarked about D’Anglebert’s music in his French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau that “the music is extremely travaillée,” or worked up in a very detailed fashion. Just how worked up it is can be judged by D’Anglebert’s preface that provided a ornament table with 29 symbols, including some he invented, and many that he employed frequently throughout these pieces. (A copy of this table in Bach’s handwriting survives, indicating that he probably knew D’Anglebert’s work.)

Music as elaborate as this, with its rhetorical flourishes and pauses, could easily become mired in particulars. However, that’s not the case on this recording. Farr is very careful not to lose the forward pulse of the music while phrasing appropriately, as the Allemande in the G Minor Suite illustrates. Nor does this force her into hectic tempos or rhythmic stiffness. The Courante II in G Minor, for example, shows how she can sustain an almost majestically gliding sense of movement in a piece played on the slow side of adagio (66 bps). Conversely, the Gigue I from the G Major Suite is a fast moderato (116 bps) treated with exceptional metrical flexibility, yet never loses its core dance-like element. It is this knife’s edge balance between rigidity and freeness, clarity of ornamentation and momentum, as much as it is a pursuit of clarity and loving sculpted phrasing that defines Farr’s performance on this release. She does a marvelous job, aided and abetted by a pair of fine instruments crafted by Keith Hill: a fine double manual harpsichord after François Blanchet, and a delicate lute harpsichord created using the description found in Adlung’s posthumously published Musica Mechanica Organoedi (1768).

Though each of these suites has been recorded by one or more harpsichordists other than Farr, I can find no instances of all four available in a single, current release. Byron Schenkman is both vital and distinguished on Centaur 2435, offering the Second Suite and excerpts from both other suites and the lute transriptions. Céline Frisch is stylish if slightly less relaxed than Farr in the First Suite (minus the Gavotte and Minuet) and the Second on Alpha 74. She has the advantage of offering all five of the fugues, played on the organ, as well as several of the Lully transcriptions and the originals, performed by Café Zimmerman, of which Frisch is a founding member. Neither the Third nor the Fourth Suite is included, however. Barbara Maria Willi offers the First, Third, and Fourth Suites on Musicaphon 56827 (which I have not heard), but foregoes the Second. This makes the current set recommendable even if it weren’t such a delight to hear—which, fortunately, it is.

It only remains to note that the sound on this recording is bright but close, with none of the mechanism noise or over-reverberant hall sounds that sometimes bedevil harpsichord albums. Farr supplies excellent and lengthy notes focusing on the music, while Hill offers some background on adding wood to extend either the treble and/or bass of an older instrument.

Full praise to Farr and Naxos for the good they’ve wrought here. Get this if you enjoy French Baroque harpsichord music.



Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, December 2008

AUDIOPHILE

Those who like the keyboard creations of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) and Francois Couperin (1668-1733) are going to fall in love with these lovely pieces by Jean-Henry D'Anglebert (1629-1691). A close associate of the great Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), he was Louis XIV's harpsichordist, and wrote only for the keyboard. His compositions, while not actual transcriptions of lute music, were greatly influenced by it. Consequently there's a vertical harmonic simplicity and dynamic uniformity about the four suites here that make them some of the most melodic harpsichord music to come out of the French baroque. Not only that, but D'Anglebert was a master of ornamentation, which adds an amazing degree of variety and color to these scores.

All of these factors are further enhanced by performances featuring a soloist who is a consummate "ornamentalist," playing two extraordinary instruments. Both built by Keith Hill, one is modeled after a two-manual harpsichord from the renowned mid-eighteenth century Parisian builder Francois Blanchet. The other is a real rarity because it's a recreation of a lute-harpsichord, none of which have survived to the present day. With gut rather than metal strings, Hill made it as per documentation dating from 1768 describing one built for Johann Sebastian Bach.

Published in 1689, D'Anglebert's Pièces de Clavecin included the suites presented here, plus nineteen transcriptions from Lully operas (see the newsletter of 11 July 2007) and other unnamed sources. The first and fourth suites are in major keys and played on the lute-harpsichord. Highlights from the first include an allemande, which is a superb example of the brisé, or broken arpeggiated style of keyboard writing inspired by lute music. Then there's a chaconne rondeau that's quite regal in bearing, and a plucky concluding menuet, which sparkles with iridescent ornamentation.

The fourth suite is the shortest with a joie de vivre that sets it apart from the rest. It includes a catchy gigue and a festive chaconne rondeau where campanella effects mimic the tolling of bells. The concluding Tombeau de Chambonnières is a moving tribute to the composer's teacher, the great French harpsichordist Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (1601-1672).

The middle suites are played on the Blanchet-inspired instrument, and what a wonderful sounding harpsichord it is. Just listen to the beautifully rounded tone of the prelude and percussively infectious courantes in the second suite. The final passacaille is a showpiece for many of those ornaments that are a D'Angelbert trademark. Incidentally, those interested in them will find further details in the highly informative album notes, or the 1689 publication mentioned above, which includes particulars about their notation and execution.

The third suite is the longest, lasting about three-quarters of an hour. Here the composer regales us with a twelve-minute Folies d'Espagne which is a mesmerizing, ingenious set of twenty-two variations on the familiar fifteenth century Portuguese dance tune La Folia.

A specialist in keyboard works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Elizabeth Farr's performances leave what little competition there is in the dust. Besides sheer technical ability, she has that exceptional sense of rhythm and phrasing that is so vital to these keyboard works. In the hands of lesser artists, highly ornamented music like this can become stilted or even awkward sounding. But that's certainly not the case with Farr whose digital dexterity and unfailing sense of timing insure smooth traversals of all these suites.

Demonstration quality sound makes this delectable baroque offering all the more appealing. Spread over a relatively broad soundstage, both instruments come across with a clarity and lifelike detail that are exceptional. Audiophiles and harpsichord enthusiasts alike will be totally captivated by this album. And those liking the dulcet tones of the lute-harpsichord should investigate an earlier Naxos release (8570470-71) with Ms. Farr playing the lute music of J.S. Bach on it.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, December 2008

For her Master of Arts thesis, our harpsichordist daughter chose "Clavecin Doubles of Chambonniere and d'Anglebert" —a subject about as far off the beaten track as one could imagine. This came to mind as I was listening to Elizabeth Farr's fine recording of this richly ornamented music. The artist chose the lute-harpsichord for the first and fourth Suites,  and a standard—but equally fine sounding harpsichord—for the other two. Ms. Farr is a superb artist, with a thorough understanding of the idiom. And herein lies the rub: the music is generally slow, and heavily ornamented and encrusted within a variety of agréments. Unlike his better-known contemporaries—Rameau and Couperin for example—this composer did not have the sense of humour, imagination, or gift for memorable melodies.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2008

Today Jean-Henry D’Anglebert, one of the most influential musicians in 17th century France, is little more than a name in history books.

Having served his apprenticeship as an organist and harpsichordist, he was, at the age of 33, to succeed his mentor as musician to the court of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. It was in his employ that he composed the single work that has been passed down to us, the extensive Pièces de Clavecin, published in 1689. It was considered one of the finest collections of keyboard works available at the time and soon travelled widely in many reissues. He apparently composed only for harpsichord, the book containing four very extended suites—the Third lasting almost fifty minutes—made up of very short sections, most being little more than a decorated melody. That poses a problem for today’s performers, as some of the expected decorations are only indicated, and the player would have been allowed their own fancy, in a way we can only guess today. In tempo they are essentially a group of dances mainly of a rather quick tempo. That he was also interested in lute music has pointed the performer, Elizabeth Farr, to play the Third and Fourth Suites on the Lute-harpsichord to follow the first two suites she performs on the harpsichord, a nice idea but questionable. The booklet includes details of the instruments used in this recording made by Keith Hill, one of today’s great baroque keyboard makers. He points out that the instrument used by the composer would have had to be one modified to give him the extended notes not found on harpsichords of the time. Farr has ‘cheated’ by using a copy of a slightly later model that encompasses that range. The sound is as ‘fusty’ and as ancient as I would want, while Hill’s lute-harpsichord has been created from written descriptions, as no instrument of the time exists. Heard one after the other they sound to have come from different centuries, the lute-harpsichord almost newly minted. Not to worry, as it makes the music readily accessible on disc. Not a major discovery, but an addition to Naxos’s invaluable journey through the 17th century.






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2:05:46 AM, 31 July 2014
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