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Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Pièces de clavecin en concerts (1741)
Accademia Strumentale Italiana/Alberto Rasi
rec. 2021, Nazareth Church, Verona, Italy

Although Rameau published several collections of keyboard works, the Pièces de clavecin en concerts is his only published collection of chamber music. The title implies the use of additional instruments to the keyboard, and Rameau made it clear that these should be a violin or flute and a viola da gamba, which could be replaced by a second violin, for which he rewrote the part. In this recording we have both a violin and a flute, sometimes one and occasionally both together, and the viola da gamba. Furthermore, Rameau did not write the keyboard part as a figured bass, as had been customary, but realized it fully. Although it has been suggested that this made it easier for amateurs to play, this does not seem a major consideration since it is often very virtuosic.

There are five suites or concerts, mostly with three movements, though the second has four. These are mostly not the traditional dance movements one might have expected, the gavotte, minuet, sarabande and so on. Exceptions to this general rule are the finale of the second concert, which is two minuets, and that of the third, which is two tambourins (the tambourin is a Provençal dance in duple metre). Otherwise, the titles seem to be proper names, of people or places. These throw little light on the pieces they are attached to and so I shall say nothing about them.

This ensemble makes a delightful sound, the twang of the harpsichord contrasting with the very different sounds of the string instruments and the flute adding more variety. I was reminded, quite anachronistically, of Boulez’ Le marteau sans maître, a very different piece, but with something of the same gentle exuberance. Rameau’s musical numbers are very varied, with some jaunty and cheerful such as L’Agaçante from the second concert, Le Rameau from the third and La Marais from the fifth. La Forqueray, also from the fifth concert is both playful and canonic, La Pantomime from the fourth is suave and gentle and La Timide, also from the fourth and La Cupis from the fifth are wistful to the point of being mournful. The writing is varied with occasional solo writing for the harpsichord in which Rameau shows his command of keyboard techniques.

I greatly enjoyed these performances. The moving spirit behind them is the viola da gamba player Alberto Rasi, who formed the ensemble, with which he has given numerous concerts. The other players work well with him and I should put in a particular word for the harpsichordist Patrizia Marisaldi, whose handling of her often tricky part is a constant pleasure. The sleevenote is helpful; I have drawn it and also on Graham Sadler’s article in the New Grove in writing this review. The recording is sparkling and the whole disc gives much pleasure. There are other recordings, though you need to disentangle them from the Pièces de clavecin which are not concerted, but I find it hard to think that any could be preferable to this delightful disc.

Stephen Barber

Patrizia Marisaldi (harpsichord), Rossella Croce (violin), Luigi Lupo (flute), Alberto Rasi (viola da gamba)

Published: October 17, 2022

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