Harpsichordist Martin Pearlman presented a gem of a concert at the Smithsonian last night, playing a French Baroque program on an exquisite double manual harpsichord made by Benoist Stehlin in Paris in 1760. It was the first in a series of four concerts planned to point up the color palette of the past through a historical matching of instrument and music.
The evening worked so well because not only were instrument and literature matched but also, and most importantly, artistic temperament. Pearlman's playing was an impeccable evocation of the style of the period, displaying both sensitivity to color possibilities and virtuosity of touch. He showed a particular gift for fluid and graceful ornamentation the hallmark of a true Baroque master.
The expressive range of the music itself was a glorious revelation. A late suite by Francois Couperin found the composer taking advantage of differences in register to achieve piquant effects. In a droll portrait of satyrs, for example, he used only darker-sounding lower part of the two manuals. In several pieces by his second cousin, Armand-Louis Couperin, melodic lines were imbued with an intensity almost Romantic in feeling.
The program came to a brilliant close with Jean-Philippe Rameau's familiar Suite in A minor, which received a splendid performance from Pearlman.