musica Dei donum
"Rameau & Handel"
Paul Goussot, organ
Dir: Benoît Babel
rec: Sept 2013, Bordeaux, Abbatiale Sainte-Croix
Paraty - PARATY714127 (© 2014) (68'20")
Cover & track-list
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759):
Concerto for organ and orchestra in g minor, op. 4,1 (HWV 289) (larghetto; andante);
Concerto for organ and orchestra in F, op. 4,4 (HWV 292);
Concerto for organ and orchestra in d minor, op. 7,4 (HWV 309) (adagio & organo ad libitum; allegro);
Paul GOUSSOT (*1984):
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764):
3e Concert in A ;
4e Concert in B flat ;
Hippolyte et Aricie (ritournelle)
 Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pieces de clavecin en concerts, 1741
George Frideric Handel and Jean-Philippe Rameau are seldom brought together on one disc. That is understandable as they have hardly anything in common, except that they were both brilliant keyboard players and spent a considerable part of their careers in the composition of operas. Stylistically there are no similarities, and they never met in person. The booklet of this disc includes some information about the Association Renaissance de l'Orgue à Bordeaux. Its activities include the promotion of the Dom Bedos organ in the Abbatiale Sainte-Croix in Bordeaux. This disc seems part of this promotion as the music by Handel and Rameau is played at this very organ.
One may wonder why the music on this disc has been selected. The liner-notes try to make the decisions plausible but I remain unconvinced. The Handel pieces do seem most appropriate. He was a brilliant organist who displayed his skills in the organ concertos which he performed between the parts of his oratorios. Several of these concertos include indications for the soloist to improvise, reflecting Handel's own practice. His improvisational skills were widely admired. The performance of the solo part on a large organ is certainly not historical. We know what kind of organ Handel had at his disposal in the Covent Garden Theatre where he usually played his concertos, and this was much smaller than the instrument played here. Moreover, the acoustic in a theatre is very different from that in a large church such as the Abbatiale Saint-Croix. Even if one accepts the use of a large organ, the performance of Handel on a French organ is highly questionable. French organs from the time of the ancien régime were very different from English instruments of that time. The liner-notes tell us that Handel's organ concertos "were circulated in France by Michel Corrette and maybe even performed as part of his Concert Spirituel." Unfortunately no evidence for these statements is given.
From a musical point of view a performance on a large organ is not without problems. That is admitted in the liner-notes: "In the concerto in D minor HWV 309, we have preferred to replace the quick movement in D major - less adapted to the aesthetic of the Dom Bedos - with a movement entirely improvised on the 32-foot grand plein jeu, which takes up some elements of a version of this concerto for two organs, which has unfortunately disappeared". This kind of intervention would not have been needed if a smaller organ had been used.
Even so, the Handel concertos belong to the more convincing parts of this disc. Rameau's Pièces de clavecin en concerts are largely unsatisfying. These were scored for harpsichord, two instruments - flute and violin - and a viola da gamba; the latter could also be replaced by a second violin. "The process of re-working and adapting musical material is a very common practice", the liner-notes state. That is certainly correct: Handel is a good example, but Rameau also re-used his own music in different guises. The Pièces de clavecin en concerts are also available in a contemporary arrangement for six instruments. However, the arrangements performed here are not very plausible. Rameau was a brilliant organist and started his career in this capacity, but that is no argument in favour of these arrangements. In the two Concerts the organ doesn't act as a solo instrument, such as in Handel's concertos, but rather as a fixed part of the ensemble. The slower pieces come off reasonably well, especially La Cupis from the 4e Concert, but the Tambourins I & II from the 3e Concert, for instance, fail to convince. In general these performances lack the differentiation and the subtlety of the original scoring.
The organ produces a gorgeous sound, and I would love to hear it in full glory, but in more suitable repertoire. The playing of Paul Goussot and the Ensemble Zaïs is excellent, and I certainly enjoyed their performances as such. However, from the angle of interpretation this disc is off the mark. According to the track-list track 10 includes an "improvised overture" by Handel. Obviously that is nonsense: one cannot record an improvisation by a composer who died more than 250 years ago. What we get here is an improvisation by Paul Goussot in the style of Handel.
Johan van Veen (© 2015)