Rameau: Pièces de clavecin en concerts

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COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Simax
WORKS: Pièces de clavecin en concerts
PERFORMER: Catherine Mackintosh (violin), Laurence Dreyfus (viola da gamba), Ketil Haugsand (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: Simax PSC 1095 DDD (distrib. Gamut)
From the sprightly opening salute to the King of Persia to the closing tribute to Marin Marais, these Pièces de clavecin en concerts show Rameau maintaining the tradition of fanciful musical portraiture so beloved of French Baroque composers. First published in 1741, however, as the Baroque era was drawing to a close, these works also show Rameau keen to try new ideas.

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His most radical experiment here is to free the harpsichord from its customary continuo role and make it virtually the lead instrument, with violin and gamba instructed to ‘adapt themselves to the harpsichord’ and play softly. It’s a move that allows him to introduce some typically bravura keyboard writing, and to feature a rich variety of musical textures as he expertly manipulates the balance and range of the three instruments.

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Most of the 16 pieces in these five concerts are named after people. Particularly engaging are the darting counterpoint of La Forqueray and the fleeting mood changes of La La Poplinière, while two ladies, La Boucon and La Cupis, are evoked with lilting tenderness. With fine performances by an experienced trio, this is an enjoyable CD marred only by a sound balance in which I feel the harpsichord could be more prominent. Graham Lock