Andreas Staier’s harpsichord recital Pour passer le melancolie
is typically eclectic, diverse and smartly programmed. For one thing, it is
not monotonously focused on a single mood: this is not an hour of sad or
self-pitying music. Staier’s note explains that he was trying to find a
number of different ideas, such as “meditative spaces”, “the passing of
time”, the inevitability of fate — passacaglias and chaconnes, driving
restlessly forward — even that melancholy is associated with thoughtfulness
So you can spend quality time with this album without getting in a bad
mood. Indeed, the reverse is true, because there is so much outstanding
music. The “ostinato conception of the frequent chaconnes and passacaglias”,
which Staier connects to “ineluctable fatality”, are always highlights,
whether by J.C.F. Fischer, Louis Couperin, Jean-Henry d’Anglebert, or Georg
Muffat. No, there’s no Bach; he was a teenager when the last of these pieces
was written. Staier really digs into those repeating bass lines and drives
the pieces forward with desperate determination. I wonder if I’d love an
all-ostinato solo album or if it would get too repetitive.
The single biggest piece is Muffat’s Passacaglia in G minor, from 1690. It
acts as a hypnotic, can’t-turn-your-ears-away culmination of all the albums
themes, after which Staier offers only a brief encore.
There is great stuff even among the non-ostinato pieces. Couperin’s
Suite in F
keeps things from getting too heavy, at least at times -
it has some laments tucked within. Seventeen minutes of music are in the
famously dramatic key of D minor, most of it from d’Anglebert.
Not surprisingly, the production is superb. Staier plays with his usual
authority and genius, on a French instrument built in 1749 and carefully
restored by Laurent Soumagnac over 2,500 hours of labor. When Soumagnac
restored it, the instrument was “a wreck…which had no stand, no strings, no
stops, and no action.” The booklet is excellent, and so is Harmonia Mundi’s
sound, in my lossless digital download. There is a photo of the harpsichord
enclosed, but it’s a pretty bad one. I guess no release can be perfect, even
if some, like this one, come pretty close.