Robert Veyron-Lacroix (complete) Westminster
Fernando Valenti (Suites in G and A)
Christoph Rousset (complete) L’Oiseau-Lyre
Wanda Landowska (La Dauphine) RCA LP
Looking at the list
above makes a startling point. Since
Landowska it is men who have played
Rameau. I didn’t even mention the Anton
Heiller recordings which were well thought
of. Against this background Sophie Yates’
recording is of interest and not just
for her superb musicianship. I must
confess, on no more than 30 seconds
acquaintance, Sophie Yates became my
favourite harpsichordist and remains
so with each new release. After the
wonderful early years with Wanda Landowska,
Sylvia Marlowe and Fernando Valenti,
harpsichord music went through a chilly
period where the music wasn’t performed
so much as tinkled to death; I’ll be
nice and won’t mention names. Many timid
recordings were made on museum instruments
by people who hadn’t played them enough
to become familiar with them. The mere
mention of a 16’ stop could get you
thrown off the campus at most universities.
Rhythm and tempo were expunged and all
we heard were endless fussy stops and
starts, all of it over-ornamented. Fortunately
things are now relaxing significantly.
Bounce, swing, even lyricism, on the
harpsichord are valued once more. Even
Ruckers harpsichord copies now have
two ranks and couplers for the most
part and I’ve actually heard one with
a 16’ stop! The sun shines once more.
Sophie Yates who does
so well with English and German harpsichord
music here acquires the perfect fluttery
breathiness and fluidity of phrasing.
She plays on an appropriately twangy
— but not too twangy — French instrument
with very clear and firm lower range.
And when some backbone is called for,
which does happen in Rameau a lot more
often than in Couperin, there she is,
firm and forthright. Rameau wrote upon
a broader canvas than other French composers
of the period and his music embraces
a greater range of emotions and styles,
as befits his deeper theoretical understanding
of music. Hence his music has greater
lasting power. Every keyboard collection
should have a complete Rameau — it’s
only two CDs — and, based on my hearing
just volume 2, this one is as good as
the very best in terms of both sound
and performance. You will enjoy listening
to it over and over again.
mains" is the best I’ve ever heard,
more drama and more rhythmic
integrity than Veyron-Lacroix. Her "Triomphante"
is delightfully clear and eruptive.
Her "Gavotte Variée"
does not bring tears as Landowska’s
does, nor does it achieve the nobility
of Veyron-Lacroix, but has the edge
in verve and dramatic logic. Her "Poule"
is the best I’ve heard with just the
right descriptive humour. "Les
Sauvages" has well judged swing
and fluidity. "L’Enharmonique"
achieves an almost Scarlattian pathos
and tenderness and is one of Rameau’s
— and Yates’ — finest achievements.
It shows off the slightly unequal temperament
to good advantage with its adventuresome
modulations. Her "Dauphine"
is graced by huge dramatic flourishes
and is almost flamboyant.
The now widely used
Valotti temperament here employed is
very similar to those developed by Thomas
Young, and also to the Werckmeister
and Kirnberger temperaments used by
J. S. Bach. It has recently found favour
by way of being a desirable compromise
between the banality of equal temperament
and the seeming excessive exoticism
of mean-tone temperament. There are
some who would argue that Rameau should
be played in equal temperament. After
making my own investigations I am of
firmly of the opinion that unequal temperaments
are preferable not only for Bach and
Rameau, but for all Eighteenth Century
music and even Nineteenth Century music
up through Schubert and perhaps even
Compared to Yates,
Christoph Rousset is more scholarly,
less dramatic or flamboyant, slightly
closer recorded, and utilises a slightly
more aggressively unequal temperament
for a little more sweetness on the nearer
keys and a little more acid in the remoter
notes. His instrument is brighter with
less presence from the bass strings.
His version is equally worthy and some
may prefer it.
With the new high resolution
recordings available, our standards
have gone up. What we once might have
accepted as a nearly perfect harpsichord
recording doesn’t sound so good now.
This recording, originally made in high
resolution is among the clearest and
most realistic harpsichord recordings
I’ve ever heard; but I would buy the
SACD version when it comes out. My only
complaint is that I haven’t heard Volume