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Jean-Phillipe RAMEAU (1683-1767)
Pièces de Clavecin
Suite in A Minor, Premier Livre (1706) [23:06]
Suite in E Minor, Pièces de Clavecin (1724-31) [22:34]
Suite in G Major, Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin (1728) [31:01]
Céline Frisch (harpsichord)
rec. Church of Franc-Warêt, Belgium, December 2007
ALPHA CLASSICS 324 [76.41]

I cannot remember a harpsichord recital that gave more pleasure and delight than this reissue, though it was a recording which passed me by on its first release. It now reappears as part of the Alpha Collection series of Baroque Masterworks.

There are surely three elements that matter for a recording such as this. Not merely the quality of music, but, especially with the harpsichord, there is a need for variety if we are not to recognize some truth in Beecham’s jibe about two skeletons copulating on a tin roof. The instrument needs to match both the quality of music and the quality of performance. Sometimes, especially in recordings, one becomes too aware of the mechanics of the instrument rather than its intended sound, and sometimes the close recording can bring out a tininess. Not so here. The instrument, from the Frédérick Haas collection, is outstanding. It was made by Jean-Henry Hemsch in 1751, rumoured to have been played by Rameau himself. It is an unusually resonant instrument, with very rich harmonics. The degree of resonance means that – as she notes in an interview in the booklet - Céline Frisch had to cut some of the repeats to accommodate the pieces to a single disc. The added stateliness is a bonus, as the music gains so much in expressiveness and a sense of stateliness. At no point is there any sense of a loss of rhythm.

The quality of Rameau’s music is special, and this disc enables us to hear how he developed as a composer. The A minor suite is a relatively youthful work, though there is no doubting the technical facility nor the ability to suggest the unusual. Nevertheless, there is the convention of a suite of dance forms. Move on to the E minor Suite and the sense of adventure is overt: there are dances but also character pieces such as Le Rappel des Oiseaux with its affectionate – and characterful – presentations of bird calls, lovingly rendered here. By the time of the G Minor Suite, the sense of character is even stringer. Each movement has its own charm and nature. Perhaps most striking of the miniatures is L’Enharmonique. Listen to the striking slow opening and the mastery not just of the music but in delicate, characterful playing. There is a seriousness of thought, reflectiveness and depth.

Rameau was not a minor composer but a major figure – and this reissue gives him his due. At mid-price – irresistible.

Michael Wilkinson



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