musica Dei donum
Rameau: Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts
Trevor Pinnock, harpsichord, Rachel Podger, violin, Jonathan Manson,
viola da gamba
rec: May 2002, Forde Abbey, Somerset
Channel Classics - CCS SA 19002 (66'51")
1er Concert in c minor; 2e Concert in G; 3e Concert in A; 4e Concert in B flat;
5e Concert in d minor
When Jean-Philippe Rameau published his Pièces de Clavecin en Concert in
1741 he already had firmly established himself as an opera composer, but he had
hardly produced anything in the genre of chamber music. With the publication
of 1741 he - as Rameau himself wrote - took direct advantage of the popularity of
recently published music for harpsichord and violin, probably a reference to the
sonatas opus 3 by Mondonville. It was not the first time, though, that he wrote
works for harpsichord and melody instrument. In the preface to his Pièces de
clavessin of 1724 he suggested the use of the viola da gamba in some pieces.
In his Pièces de clavecin en concert, though, he goes one step further,
by adding two melody instruments to the harpsichord, even though he stated that
these pieces could be played by the harpsichord alone. The term 'concert' has
nothing to do with the solo concerto; it merely means that these pieces can be
played in 'ensemble'. Although the keyboard is taking the lead, the violin and
the viola da gamba are equals: the viola da gamba doesn't just play the bass line
of the keyboard part as Johann Sebastian Bach suggested for his sonatas for
harpsichord and violin. The part of the harpsichord is certainly the most
demanding, but a lot is demanded of the violin and viola da gamba as well.
All the pieces in these concerts have names, in the tradition of French
keyboard music. It is tempting to look for a 'programme' or 'characterisation'
of some people, as a number of names refer to musicians of Rameau's time. But
that would probably go too far. But it could be an interesting game to try to
discover what the composer probably would try to express.
There is no lack of recordings of these pieces. I don't know them all, but so
far my favourite recording was the one by the Trio Sonnerie (Virgin Classics),
with Mitzi Meyerson, Monica Huggett and Sarah Cunningham. Having heard this new
interpretation I have to stick to that one. In fact, I am very disappointed by
this new recording. I find it extremely bland and often simply dull. There is
very little differentiation in Trevor Pinnock's harpsichord playing; no agogics,
no breathing spaces or shades in tempo - he just goes on and on like a machine.
Rachel Podger's violin playing isn't very colourful, in particular in comparison
with Monica Huggett. And Sarah Cunningham is both more refined and dramatic in
the viola da gamba part than Jonathan Manson.
This performance does neither breathe nor speak, doesn't give and take and
ignores the 'punctuation marks' in the music. I am also surprised by the
extremely sparing use of ornamentation. As far as the sound of the recording is
concerned, it is almost muted and lacks brilliance. The balance between the
instruments isn't ideal either.
This recording does sound 'heavy' and lacks elegance and French esprit.
I can't recommend it. The Trio Sonnerie remains the first choice.
Johan van Veen (© 2003)