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Pour passer la melancolie
Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Suite No. 30 in A minor [9:48]
Jean-Henry D’ANGLEBERT (1629-1691)
Fugue grave pour l’Orgue, in D minor [3:13]
Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656-1746)
Musical Parnassus, in D minor [6:01]
Louis COUPERIN (1626?-1661)
Suite in F [15:41]
Three pieces from First Book, 1689 [13:43]
Ricercar pro Tempore Quadragesimae super Initium Cantilenae: “Da Jesus an dem Creutze stund” [2:17]
Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Suite in C minor, 1704 [11:44]
Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704)
Passacaglia in G minor [8:30]
Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Msta. Di Ferdinando IV [3:48]
Andreas Staier (harpsichord)
rec. February 2012, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU902143 [74:50]

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 and intelligence.

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.

Brian Reinhart