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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Keyboard Suites
Suite in E minor (Pièces de Clavecin, 1724, rev. 1731) [21:35]
Suite in G Minor (Nouvelles suites Pièces de Clavecin c. 1729-30) [28:26]
Suite in A minor (Nouvelles suites Pièces de Clavecin, c. 1729-30) [28:17]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbacio, Italy, 1-4 June 2006. DDD
HYPERION CDA67597 [78:18]


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 two suites.

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.

Patrick C Waller

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