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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Suite La Triomphante (arr. Hekkema, from harpsichord originals 1706, 1728) [29.37]
Suite Le Rappel des Oiseaux (arr. Hekkema, orig. harpsichord Suite in E, 1724) [22.48]
La Poule (arr. Hekkema) [2.36]
Suite Les Boréades (arr. Althuis, from originals 1733, 1763?) [14.54]
Calefax Reed Quintet
rec. Doopsgezinde kerk Haarlem, June 2005
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM SCENE MDG 619 1374-2 [70.21]

 

 

Period performance, this isn't. The principle of borrowing and arranging others' music was, of course, standard Baroque practice, so the iconoclastic Rameau might well have approved of these concoctions. But he'd not have recognized most of these instruments - the accomplished Calefax Reed Quintet comprises oboe, clarinet, saxophone (alto, by the sound of it), bass clarinet, and bassoon - and the sounds they make are hardly echt Baroque. These arrangements, however - informed as they are by an understanding of the Baroque aesthetic as well as of the expressive potential of instrumental color - work, and brilliantly.

The transcribers, Raaf Hekkema and Jefte Althuis, the Calefax's saxophonist and bass clarinetist respectively, bring a hands-on knowledge (pun probably intended) of the instruments, both individually and in combination, to their task. Thus, the La Villageoise movement of Le Rappel des Oiseaux begins with just the saxophone over bassoon accompaniment; the simple addition of the clarinet on the sustained harmonies dramatically enriches the sonority. The bass clarinet is very much the chameleon: in (the Allemande from La Triomphante, it first tosses motifs back and forth with its junior and partners it in thirds, then gravitates to the bass line so as to free the bassoon for contrapuntal duty. Imaginative, almost pointillistic melodic deployments suggest an unusual variety of timbre: the quiet theme of the Gigue en Rondeau from Le Rappel des Oiseaux elides smoothly from saxophone to oboe to the  smooth, suave clarinet. The choice of instruments, whether etching the counterpoint or artfully simulating orchestral textures, is effective, and most of the writing sounds easy and natural. (In the Le Rappel des Oiseaux movement of that suite, the saxophone and oboe sound a bit stilted in some quasi-improvisatory flourishes - not the sort of thing that the Baroque oboe would have played - though the clarinet and bassoon are fine.)

And time and again, these "inauthentic instruments" startle us with effects that recall those in performances that strive for historical accuracy, although they sound rather different. In La Triomphante, the clarinet and oboe give the upper lines a piquant, "vocal" expression. The saxophone's pungent high range adds a piercing edge to melodic lines in the Courante, and its unison with the clarinet conjures a shiny brilliance in the eponymous La Triomphante movement. The oboe communicates the double-reedy pomp of the Sarabande's stately, marchlike rhythms. In Le Rappel des Oiseaux, the elaborately trilled Musette is rather grand, while the stark textures and pungent colors of the closing Tambourin nod to its underlying folk-music influence. From time to time, the modern instruments' sonorous depth evokes a "operatic" drama of its own. At the start of La Triomphante: the preponderance of dark, lugubrious timbres in overlapping sustained tones evokes a dismal foreboding; similarly, bassoon and bass clarinet launch Polymnie's entrance fugato in Les Boréades in stark, gloomy tones.

Purists will still scoff, of course. But if the optimal purpose of a transcription is to show the originals in a new and equally valid light, this program must be judged a success, without reservation. As you might have guessed, the playing is marvelously adept, and the sound is first-rate.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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