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LABELS: Pierre Verany
WORKS: Pièces de clavecin, Book 1
PERFORMER: Jean-Patrice Brosse (harpsichord)
Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer was a generation younger than Rameau and is nowadays chiefly remembered for his only surviving collection of harpsichord pieces, published in 1746. But in his day Royer was a successful composer of theatre music, held court appointments and was for several years a co-director of the Paris public concert series, the Concert Spirituel. Royer’s harpsichord pieces are varied in character but uneven in quality. Several of them are adaptations of items from earlier stage works and notably Zaïde, his most successful opéra-ballet. The most striking of these is a bravura ‘March for the Scythians’, which Jean-Patrice Brosse plays with dazzling virtuosity, outshining the rival versions by William Christie (Harmonia Mundi, alas not currently available) and Christophe Rousset (Decca). And another extravagant piece, ‘Le vertigo’, comes off with comparable aplomb.


But Brosse is less engaging in some of the more delicately wrought pieces such as the melancholy C minor rondeau, ‘La sensible’. Christie brings to it a heady atmosphere of nostalgia, while his meaner tone tuning adds a further dimension of fantasy. If your taste inclines towards virtuosity and fireworks, then Brosse is unlikely to disappoint you. If, on the other hand, you are above all of a contemplative disposition it is Christie who will provide the greater food for thought. But while it is Rousset who offers the strongest all-round version it is Christie who more often probes beneath the music’s superficialities. Recorded sound is excellent, but the booklet offers wildly incorrect timings for every single piece. Nicholas Anderson