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Mitzi Meyerson at the Smithsonian

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François Couperin: Les Ombres Errantes, M. Meyerson

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Richard Jones, Sets of Lessons for the Harpsichord, M. Meyerson
The introductory weekend of the Westfield Center International Harpsichord Competition and Academy, which began on Saturday night with a recital by juror Arthur Haas, continued on Sunday night. The same precious historical instrument from the Smithsonian collection (Benoist Stehlin, 1760) was put at the disposal of American-born harpsichordist Mitzi Meyerson, who is serving the competition not as a juror but as instructor of the Academy this week and as a sort of sounding board for the competitors after the first round, available to offer her thoughts on the performances of winners or those eliminated. This is a natural role for Meyerson, who holds the professorship of harpsichord and fortepiano at the Universität der Künste in Berlin, the first position of its kind when it was created for Wanda Landowska. Her excellent program in the Hall of Musical Instruments at the National Museum of American History was devoted to three scions of the Couperin dynasty in France, which ended with Céleste-Thérèse Couperin, who "was obliged to resign" from a post as organist "following complaints from parishioners about the poor quality of her playing" (according to Nigel Simeone) and had to sell the collection of family portraits before her death in 1860.

What made this concert stand out above the one by Haas the previous evening was the much greater degree of surety and polish in the execution, but also the clarity of thought behind the interpretation, revealed also in Meyerson's droll and informative comments about the music. The unmeasured prelude that opened the D minor suite by Louis Couperin (1626-1661) had exactly the improvisatory feel that Meyerson said she wanted to capture, and in all of the dances, she used a careful regulation of articulation to draw out voicings, with brilliant trills and a perky rhythmic vitality to the Courantes and the Gavotte. In the Sarabande, an unusual piece, she took some delicious rhythmic liberties, to couch the harmonies carefully, and although she had not done much with registration changes for most of the piece, she used the Stehlin's different sounds to give the Chaconne some shape.

Pride of place went to François Couperin (1668-1733), known as "le Grand" for his primacy of fame in the family. Here the fleetness of Meyerson's fingers was most pronounced, in the extravagant ornamentation added to the repeats of the various movements, some of them in the written-out right-hand embellishments that Couperin included in the score. The two sarabandes had a nice contrast, affectionate but not overly sentimental in "Les Sentiments" and a full-registered gravity in "La Majestueuse." The use of the instrument's registration possibilities increased here and in the closing selections by Armand-Louis Couperin (1727-1789), with some very interesting sounds created. After the concert, Meyerson explained one of the unusual registrations she had used, which was to have only one hand play on couple the peau de buffle buff (soft stop) to the upper manual, with oddly ethereal results. The later pieces had a more dramatic bent, which Meyerson brought out in little operatic vignettes. Rather than a Couperin showpiece for an encore -- I was hoping for Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins -- Meyerson offered a meaty performance of Forqueray's La Couperin.

Two more concerts by members of the Westfield Competition jury are scheduled for this weekend, featuring Charlotte Mattax Moersch (August 11) and Davitt Moroney (August 12). Both will be held at the National Museum of American History, starting at 7:30 pm.

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