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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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
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