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Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace ROYER (1703-1755)
Premiere Livre de Pièces de Clavecin
La Majestueuse in d minor [5:59]
La Zaïde in D [6:09]
Les Matelots in d minor [2:49]
Tambourins I and II in d minor [2:00]
L'Incertaine in g minor [4:23]
L'Aimable in g minor [6:58]
La Bagatelle in G [1:48]
Suite de la Bagatelle in g minor [2:09]
La Remouleuse in G [3:00]
Les tendres Sentiments in g minor [5:37]
Le Vertigo in g minor [6:24]
Allemande in c minor [6:15]
La Sensible in c minor [4:18]
La Marche des Scythes in c minor [7:15]
Mie Hayashi (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, St Mary's Church, Birdsall, UK

Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer is a representative of the French harpsichord school of the mid-18th century. He was a contemporary of Jean-Philippe Rameau, with whom he has several things in common. Both were educated in playing the keyboard and earned a reputation as brilliant organists and harpsichordists. Both were also active as composers of music for the theatre. Rameau turned to the theatre when he was 50 years of age, whereas Royer’s first opera, Pyrrhus, was first performed in 1730, when he was just 27. However, both included operatic pieces in their harpsichord oeuvre. Whereas such pieces in the case of Rameau were first conceived as harpsichord works, which he later adapted for orchestra and included in his operas, Royer followed the opposite route. In his Première livre de pièces de clavecin, which was printed in 1746, he included transcriptions of instrumental movements from his stage works, especially Zaïde of 1739 and Le pouvoir de l'amour of 1743, both belonging to the genre of the ballet-héroïque. This book of harpsichord pieces is his only printed collection. It is known that he composed more for the harpsichord, but everything seems to have been lost, except La chasse de Zaïde, another transcription from the above-mentioned opera, which unfortunately is not included here.

Royer may be a minor figure in today’s performance practice of early music, but he was a man of repute in his own time. In 1730 he became maître de musique at the Paris opera, and in 1734 he was appointed maître de musique des enfants de France, which meant that he was responsible for the musical education of the children of King Louis XV. Several of them were musically gifted, and the first book of harpsichord pieces was dedicated to the two daughters (Mesdames de France).

The pieces in Royer’s collection are grouped by keys: D major and minor, G major and minor and C minor, but without giving them the form of a suite. No less than seven are in the form of a rondeau, which reflects the taste of the time. Nevertheless, as Royer states in the preface: “The pieces are open to great variety, passing from the tender to the lively, from the simple to the tumultuous, often successively within the same piece”.

La Zaïde, La Marche des Scythes and La Chasse de Zaïde are arrangements of instrumental pieces from Zaïde. La Marche des Scythes is also a token of the interest in exotic cultures, which was common at the time, and which also comes to the fore in Rameau’s opera Les Indes galantes. Les Matelots, Tambourin I and the Allemande are based on music from Le pouvoir de l’amour. Most of them are lively or even ‘tumultuous’, but La Zaïde is a specimen of the ‘tender’ genre. The Allemande has little in common with the allemandes of the past, being much more forceful and theatrical.

‘Tender’ is a good description of pieces such as La Sensible, L'Aimable and Les Tendres Sentiments. ‘Tumultuous’ fits Le Vertigo, meaning ‘the capricious’, characterised, as it is, by heavy and frequently repeated chords. Closest to a traditional character piece is La Remouleuse, probably depicting the knife grinder, which would explain the repeated motif. La Bagatelle is a restless piece with short, pungent chords.

Mie Hayashi plays a copy of a harpsichord by Jean-Claude Goujon of 1749. It is a nice instrument which suits this repertoire pretty well. The more lyrical, ‘tender’ pieces come off best in Hayashi’s performances. I like her subtle use of agogical means, which helps to bring out the expression in these pieces. However, in La Remouleuse she seems to miss the point a little. Due to her articulation it is not that easy to imagine the turning of the wheel of the knife grinder. I am not that enthusiastic about the performances of the more ‘tumultuous’ pieces, where I feel that Hayashi is too restrained. In this part of Royer's oeuvre Christophe Rousset (review) is much more convincing. La Marche des Scythes is probably the most telling example, as here Rousset creates a really theatrical atmosphere and his tempo is more appropriate. He generally has the faster tempi, and that especially suits this kind of piece.

On balance, I am a bit in two minds about this disc. I have enjoyed some of the pieces in Hayashi's performance, but there are also items where I believe she could have done more with the material.

Johan van Veen

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