How does it come about that someone like me, with a general
aversion to hearing music designed for the harpsichord, clavichord
or fortepiano played on the modern piano should give high praise
to this second volume in Stephen Gutman’s complete series for
Toccata? Or, for that matter, that I praised its predecessor
highly, too? (TOCC050 – review).
The answer lies in the delicacy of touch which Stephen Gutman
applies – by which I don’t mean that he makes Rameau’s music
sound namby-pamby or unduly delicate. He shares with a very
small number of pianists the ability to make modern piano performances
of the music of this period sound as enjoyable to me as those
on the harpsichord; in effect, I forget which instrument is
That small group includes Angela Hewitt, who has recorded three
of the Pièces de clavecin for Hyperion (CDA67597) and
in Bach Glenn Gould, despite his notorious waywardness, and
The keyboard transcriptions from the orchestral suite extracted
from les Indes galantes can’t sound as exotic and exciting
on any keyboard – if anything I might have preferred Gutman
on this occasion to have used the facilities of the modern instrument
a little more – but it’s still very attractive in its own right
when it’s played as nimbly and as delicately as it is here.
Listen to track 17: Air pour les Esclaves Africains
and those dancing slaves come to life; of course there’s no
sense of the brutality of slavery – but that was beyond Rameau’s
remit or intent in his opera-ballet.
There are two very interesting sets of notes in the booklet.
In the first seven pages (2-8) Graham Sadler offers scholarly
information about the music; on pages 9-11 Stephen Gutman offers
a well thought out raison d’être for his performing
practice. You don’t need to read either to enjoy the music but
I recommend that you do. Gutman’s reasons for employing a technique
beyond the range of the harpsichord rings most true for the
music of Suite No.3, each piece of which has a descriptive title,
ranging from the emotional (les tendres plaintes, track
25; les soupirs, track 29) to classical references
(l’entretien des Muses, tr.32; les Cyclopes,
Gutman especially singles out in his notes the reference to
Cyclops, imagining that the movement depicts the episode in
the Odyssey when Odysseus and his men blind the one-eyed
Polyphemus in order to escape from his clutches and ending when
the giant and his fellow Cyclops hurl rocks at the departing
Greeks. As he says, the title is unlikely to have been an afterthought
and it’s certainly true that he achieves a range of expression
here which would have been beyond the power of the harpsichord.
Gutman gives La boiteuse (tr.34) as evidence for William
Christie’s contention that Rameau was the greatest dance composer
before Stravinsky; he ‘leans’ on the phrasing in such a way
as to underline the force of the music and he does so convincingly
for me at least.
The pièces de clavecin were originally composed for
harpsichord plus other instruments – hence the en concerts
designation – and they are undoubtedly more colourful in that
form, as on the Lyrichord recording which I recommended in my
June 2012/2 Download
Roundup (LEMS8040 – see also review
by David Wright), but here again judicious use of the greater
expressiveness of the piano, including some sparing use of the
sustaining pedal, offsets the limitations of having the music
transcribed for solo keyboard.
If you haven’t yet acquainted yourself with volume 1, you should
do so – and obtain its successor at the same time. You’ll find
a number of extracts from very favourable reviews of that CD
on the back of the new one. I shall be very surprised if there
isn’t the same support for its successor. I placed my bid for
volume 1 in the mistaken belief that the performances were made
on the harpsichord and was very pleasantly surprised to find
myself pleased that I’d made the mistake. This time I placed
my bid with open eyes and was not disappointed.
I got out my copy of volume 1 recently – it was easy to find,
which proves that it gets played quite frequently and hasn’t
disappeared into the limbo of lost CDs at the back of the cupboard
and was just as pleased with it as when I first reviewed it.
That goes equally for its successor. Roll on the third and final
volume – let’s not have to wait another four years, please.
us financially by purchasing this disc
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