This disc contains
a substantial proportion of the works Rameau wrote for the
solo harpsichord. There is an excellent website
devoted to the composer listing his works. To summarise, there
is an early 1st book of the pieces dated 1706,
followed by the Pièces de Clavecin and Nouvelles
suites Pièces de Clavecin but little else. Note
that the later Pièces de Clavecin en Concert are accompanied
works. The accompaniment is by violin and viola da gamba and
these works and these works can be heard on an excellent Harmonia
Mundi disc HMA 1951418 with Christoph Rousset at the harpischord.
The first of the two suites of the Pièces de Clavecin
is not played here but the Nouvelles suites Pièces
de Clavecin are given complete.
In contrast to
J.S. Bach’s keyboard music, recordings of Rameau on the piano
are rare. Angela Hewitt’s credentials in both baroque and
French music are well-established. She has recorded all Bach’s
keyboard works, and also surveyed Couperin and Ravel to considerable
critical acclaim. My expectations of this disc were therefore
high but I am afraid it didn’t immediately live up to them.
This probably has more to do with the music than Hewitt’s
playing which is effortless and graceful. I can declare myself
agnostic on the general issue of playing baroque keyboard
music on the harpsichord or piano – I like listening to both
– but I did spend some time wondering whether this is the
right instrument for the music. As usual, Ms. Hewitt plays
a Fazioli and it makes quite a big sound, the recording being
quite forwardly balanced in a rather resonant acoustic. Take
for example the end of the G minor suite (track 17, L’égiptienne)
where the overall effect seems a bit heavy-handed.
These three suites
are a bit of mixed bag of Allemandes, Courantes and Gigues
interspersed with “genre” pieces. The latter are generally
the more interesting – Le rappel des oiseaux and La
poule in particular are strikingly original. The A minor
suite concludes with a Gavotte and set of variations. This
seemed to me to be more consistently inspired than the other
There are excellent
notes by Angela Hewitt. Documentation is an area in which
Hyperion generally excels and I do like it when the artist
goes to the trouble of setting down in words their take on
the composer and the music.
A qualified welcome
then - if Rameau played on the piano appeals there are no
serious reservations. Since the first hearing, both the music
and playing have grown on me but after three goes I still
have more of a yen to hear the music on the harpsichord than
to play this again.