Rameau Symphonies á deux clavecins

Album title:
Rameau Symphonies á deux clavecins
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Symphonies á deux clavecins
Pierre Hantaï, Skip Sempé (harpsichords)
Catalogue Number:
BBC Music Magazine
Rameau Symphonies á deux clavecins


Arrangement was a major means of dissemination for composers in the 18th century. The elite enjoyed opera for its magnificent spectacle, but performances were expensive and if composers wanted their finest music to be enjoyed and purchased, its arrangement for smaller forces was the best solution. Rameau himself led the way with a selection of ‘hits’ from his opera-ballet, Les Indes galantes, for harpsichord. Expanding the one-harpsichord format to two, and extending the repertoire to include several later masterpieces from Rameau’s spectacular operatic career, seems entirely in accordance with 18th-century practice.

The instruments used are superb modern copies of early 18th-century French and German harpsichords. The treble registers of both instruments have a plangent, bell-like quality while the bases are strongly resonant, imparting an almost orchestral colour to such movements as the ‘Air pour les Polonais’. As a pair, however, these instruments also have a homogenous quality that is entirely appropriate in the more serious movements – the wonderful overture to Pygmalion, for example. The harpsichord sound is beautifully captured and the playing is beyond reproach. While there is much drama in Hantaï and Sempé’s playing, it might be best to take this magnificent collection a little at a time.

Jan Smaczny

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