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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683–1764)
Pièces de clavecin en concerts (1741)
Quatrième concert in B flat [10:54]
Deuxième concert in G [19:06]
Premier concert in c minor [09:44]
Cinquième concert in d minor [13:31]
Troisième concert in A [14:20]
Trio Sonnerie: (Monica Huggett (violin); Mitzi Meyerson (harpsichord); Sarah Cunningham (viola da gamba))
rec. April 1986, Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset, UK. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS VC 7 59154 2 [67:39]

Jean-Philippe Rameau is mostly known as an important composer of music for the theatre; he was 40 when he composed his first theatre music. Not that much is known about his career before that; he was mostly active as organist in several churches. Although he lived in Paris from 1706 to 1709 he only settled there permanently in 1722, probably on the occasion of the publication of his treatise 'Traité de l'harmonie', which earned him a wide reputation in France and abroad. In Paris he was mainly active as a harpsichord teacher, and he published several books with harpsichord pieces. In the 1730s he started to compose operas, and in the early 1740s, when he stopped writing for the theatre for a while, he returned to composing keyboard music. In 1741 he published the 'Pièces de clavecin en concerts', pieces written for harpsichord with accompaniment of violin and viola da gamba, which according to Rameau could also be played on the harpsichord alone.

The composition of pieces with a fully written-out part for the keyboard and with parts for melody instruments to accompany it wasn't totally new. Rameau himself acknowledged that he had been influenced by music written by other composers: "The success of the sonatas which appeared recently as harpsichord pieces with violin awakened in me the desire to follow the same plan." The main source of inspiration seems to have been the set of six sonatas for harpsichord and violin opus 3 by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville, which were published in 1734. Other composers also followed in Mondonville's footsteps, like Michel Blavet and Michel Corrette. Although Rameau's 'concerts' were set for keyboard, violin and viola da gamba he suggested alternative melody instruments: the violin could be replaced by a transverse flute, the viola da gamba by a second violin. The latter possibility indicates that the gamba's upper register is frequently employed, which makes this part very demanding.

The five 'concerts' are mostly in three movements; only the 2e Concert has four. Most pieces have titles, and there have been many attempts to explain them. Sometimes they may express characters, like 'L'Indiscrète' (4e Concert) or 'La Timide' (3e Concert) without referring to a specific person, others are names of people in Rameau's environment. One of them is La Poplinière (3e Concert), a wealthy financier who had a private orchestra, and in whose house Rameau lived for several years. Others, like Laborde and Boucon (2e Concert) were his pupils. But there is no need to look for specific characterisations here. Some of the names were given by others after the pieces were composed, as Rameau himself wrote.

The publication of the 'Pièces de clavecin en concerts' was remarkable in that it was printed in score rather than in separate partbooks, as was the habit of the time. Rameau did so on purpose. He wanted all the players involved to read from the same score because "not only must the three instruments blend but (…) the violin and viol must above all adapt themselves to the harpsichord, distinguishing what is merely accompaniment from what is thematic, in order to play still more softly in the former case".

The Trio Sonnerie is well aware of Rameau's wishes as expressed in this quotation. The balance between the three instruments is very good: they blend or stand out dependent on what the music asks for. The playing of all three members of the ensemble is technically of the highest calibre. But what is even more impressive is their interpretation of the various, often strongly contrasting pieces. The opera composer Rameau is never far away here, and that is clearly revealed in this recording.

The tempi are well-chosen, and the rhythmic pulse is consistently preserved, even though sometimes a subtle rubato is applied (for instance in 'La Marais', 5e Concert). The dark-coloured 'La Boucon' (2e Concert) is very expressive, 'La Livri' (1er Concert) gracious, with a beautifully swaying rhythm, and the strong contrasts in 'La Timide' (3e Concert) are fully exploited. 'Le Vézinet' (1er Concert) is played in a very lighted-hearted, relaxed way, and in the folk-like 'Tambourins' (3e Concert), which closes this disc, the players are not afraid to let their hair down.

This recording of Rameau's 'Pièces de clavecin en concerts' is the best I have ever heard. I am very glad it is available again.

Johan van Veen



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