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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Keyboard Works (Pièces de Clavecin) (1724, 1728)
Virginia Black (piano)
rec. Jacqueline Du Pré Music Building, St Hilda’s College, Oxford; no date given
CRD 3536 [62:42]

I fell in love with this music played on a piano when in the mid-80’s I randomly picked up from the bargain bin in Tower Records on New York’s Lower East Side an EMI Références double LP of Marcel Meyer playing this music on her sonorous, singing Pleyel piano. That was a formative experience, rendering me hopelessly imprinted by both Meyer’s style and the order in which she plays them, so it took an effort on my part to accommodate Virginia Black’s selection, sequencing and very different manner.

The eighteen pieces here are drawn from the Pièces de Clavecin, published in 1724, and from the second volume, Nouvelles Suite de pièces de Clavecin, which appeared in 1728. This is early programme music, presenting a broad range of musical vignettes in thoroughly delightful and inexhaustibly inventive fashion. Of Virginia Black’s dexterity and mastery of her instrument, there is no question and she clearly loves and responds empathetically to the music. In her own words, “This disc features pieces from three of the four suites Rameau wrote for the harpsichord. I have selected these to illustrate Rameau's extraordinary talent in descriptive, innovative and often virtuosic writing, and to show how the piano can enhance the works through singing tone and tonal nuance.”

Be that as it may, by and large, Black is usually much slower than Meyer in nearly every piece and never as percussive or metronomic. Accustomed as I am to the fleet uniformity of Meyer’s way with the music, I do not personally respond as enthusiastically as some might to Black’s more fluid and agogic approach. For instance, I much prefer Meyer’s straightforwardly propulsive delivery of the Rigaudon and the way she plays the repeat pianissimo; in the following Musette, I find Black’s deliberately hesitant fingering of the bagpipe drone too fussy, whereas Meyer gives the riff more impetus and the piece hangs together better. Black’s measured way with Les Tourbillons is nowhere near as exhilarating as Meyer’s headlong rush; in truth, I find it dull. The humour of La Poule, too, is surely more served by Meyer’s maintaining a rigorous pulse, whereas Black pulls the phrasing and tempo about from bar to bar and the depiction loses the requisite mock pomposity of the strutting hen. And thus it goes with virtually every number; I prefer Meyer’s momentum at every turn to Black’s self-conscious application of effects. These are very much questions of personal taste but I can only convey my own response; others may feel very differently and prefer Black’s more interventionist and improvisatory interpretation.

Carefully compiled as this selection is, with due regard for balance and contrast between moods, inevitably I miss a couple of favourite pieces, especially the opening Menuet et rondeau and Allemande of the 1724 E minor Suite; as the disc lasts only just over the hour, I wonder whether a few more titles could not have been included.

No recording date is provided; presumably it was recent. Obviously, the digital sound is far more detailed atmospheric than Meyer’s mono, but for me it is the spirit and execution of the music which count and I find the early 50’s sound in any case very acceptable.

Ralph Moore

1. Les Niais de Sologne
2. Les Soupirs
3. La Joyeuse
4. Les Tendres Plaintes
5. La Follette
6. L'Entretien des Muses
7. Les Tourbillons
8. Les Cyclopes
9. Le Rappel des Oiseaux
10. Deux Rigaudons
11. Musette en Rondeau
12. Tambourin
13. La Poule
14. Les Tricotets
15. L'Egyptienne
16. Fanfarinette
17. La Triomphante
18. Gavotte et Doubles

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