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How then, as the latest recorded interpreter, does Noëlle Spieth navigate her way through these deceptively placid but, in reality, treacherous waters? In a word, consummately. She is blessed with formidable technique and the deftest of touches. In her, digital dexterity and musical sensibility combine to reveal all the nuances of the written score.

Take two extremes. Firstly, the dramatic Passacaille from Ordre 8 [listen -- CD 4 track 24, 0:00-1:23], a piece Wilfrid Mellers calls 'Couperin's ultimate tragic testament'. Spieth doesn't hang around here, belabouring the grandeur in the portentous vein of some interpreters. What her brisk approach reveals is, surprisingly, the balance of gravitas and sparkle, as also the architectural clarity of the piece. Second, and in complete contrast, Les Pavots [listen -- CD 2 track 27, 2:53-4:11], which comes from the final, 27th, Ordre and shares the same key of B minor, is spare and fragile. This performance lasts a full eight minutes, but Spieth's pacing is authoritative. Mellers suggests that these same poppies may have been what, medicinally, gave the sick and by now dying composer 'the boon of sleep', and the playing here reveals Spieth's innate understanding of the underlying pathos. We are kept suspended in a web of hypnotic melancholy.

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Copyright © 25 January 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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