Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Pièces de clavecin en concerts (1741)
Premier Concert [9:54]
Deuxième Concert [18:35]
Troisième Concert [13:53]
Quatrième Concert [10:36]
Cinquième Concert [13:06]
Aapo Häkkinen (harpsichord); Petri Tapio Mattson (violin); Mikko Perkola (viola da gamba)
rec. 4-6 February 2010, Konsertihovi, Imatra, Finland
ALBA ABCD 318 [66:25]

I’ve become increasingly fond of Aapo Häkkinen’s recording of the Goldberg Variations since reviewing it in 2009, and I was therefore more than happy to see his name appearing against some further favourite repertoire. Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts were written and published when his reputation as a composer of opera was already well established, and the nature of the music follows patterns which might relate to Couperin’s Concerts royaux and composers such as Mondonville. The character titles given to each movement also follow a tradition seen in Couperin and continued with composers such as Balbastre. Without such titles we might not ‘get’ each musical remark from the music alone, but given the association it’s not hard to hear the pecking provocations of L’Agaçante or the circular repetitions of La Timide. Rameau might not have given this music titles himself, “Several persons of taste and skill have done me the honour of naming some of these pieces”, but they do reflect the kinds of taste and subject of gossip with which he would have been only too happy to be linked. The basic content of the movements are the usual dance forms, but given the substance and contrasting variety of each Concert – a title which refers to ‘ensemble’ rather than performance context – there is a huge amount of lively and affecting entertainment to amuse even the most jaded of listeners.

The players on this recording have a fine synergy, and the blend and adaptation of the string instruments to the harpsichord – the composer’s stated intention – is expressed well both in the performance and the recording. Häkkinen and Perkola have worked together before, making their mark with a Bach release on the Naxos label. The Konsertihovi acoustic is not hugely resonant, so there is certainly no issue with clarity, though a margin of extra atmosphere might have been desirable. This is very much a question of individual taste; the recording is by no means dry or unattractive. The SACD layer opens out the spatial effect and definition of the instruments in the recording a good deal, though plain stereo is perfectly acceptable as well.

There are numerous recordings of this set of works around, and the lukewarm reception given by Kirk McElhearn to the London Baroque recording of this music on the BIS label (see review) is contrasted with plaudits given to alternatives such as that with Christophe Rousset on Harmonia Mundi’s bargain Musique d’abord label. The SACD recording is also not a unique selling point for this release from Alba, there already being a nice version on the Challenge Classics label with Trevor Pinnock and Rachel Podger.

I have very much enjoyed the Häkkinen/Mattson/Perkola trio’s performances, but would also encourage interested collectors to investigate versions which include transverse flute as part of the ensemble. Rameau himself doesn’t specify exact instrumentation in his published score, but the flute adds an extra element of colour to the sound, and can heighten the ‘doloroso’ effect of the more lyrical pieces. Of these, the Accent label has a nice recording with flautist Barthold Kuijken with other Kuijken family members and harpsichord player Robert Kohnen.

Dominy Clements

Fine energy and expression, but only one in a fairly rich field.