"Every soul and spirit were in his harpsichord," dramatist Alexis Piron wrote about his friend Rameau. Listeners of today are often more inclined to prefer his operas. However, there is a wealth of wit, wisdom and joy in Rameau's harpsichord works. This collection of the complete 'Pièces pour clavecin', performed by Bertrand Cuiller with his customary finesse and passion, illuminates all of the beauty and virtuosity of these works. Bertrand Cuiller devotes his recital career to the solo harpsichord repertory, with a particular penchant for the English composers William Byrd and John Bull, whose music he has recorded for Mirare and Alpha.
It is only a short while since I reviewed a suite of dances from Rameau's opera, Nais. Now, hard on the heels of that disc (also conducted by McGegan, Harmonia Mundi, 7/95) comes a reissue of the entire work, albeit with judicious cuts. Nais was commissioned to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, and first performed the following year. Thus it was a vocal counterpart to Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, both pieces marking the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession. The present recording was made in 1980 following performances at London's Old Vic Theatre and at Versailles under the auspices of Lina Lalandi's enterprising English Bach Festival.
In 1745, the king granted Jean-Philippe Rameau the position of Composer du cabinet du roy, which came with a pension. This new period would see productions in a lighter vein, in collaboration with the librettist Louis de Cahusac, and some of the Burgundian musician's most important masterpieces. 'Zaïs', performed in 1748 on the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique, is one of them. This ballet-héroïque gave French music one of its finest works.
Unlike Rameau's other operatic output, 'Le Temple de la Gloire' has been incomprehensibly neglected on disc and on the stage until very recently. There have been a few recordings of the dances from the opera, arranged into suites, but this is the first recording of the complete work. The libretto by Voltaire involves mainly allegorical, symbolic and mythical characters, but its intention is serious – namely to demonstrate his philosophy advocating tolerance, freedom, the welfare and contentment of the people. Of course these are concepts which few of us would argue with today, but it was a different matter under the absolutism of the 18th century.
These "concerts mis en simphonie" are Jean-Philippe Rameau's Pièces de clavecin en concert of 1741, orchestrated for strings and winds (but no harpsichord) by Hugo Reyne, flutist and director of the historical-instrument group La Simphonie du Marais. Rameau's originals are for violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord, but unlike in an Italian trio sonata or accompanied sonata the harpsichord is at the center of the group. The violin and gamba are accompanimental and can optionally be replaced with other instruments.
Zoroastre was first performed in Paris in 1749 and was, by and large, well received. But the librettist, Cahusac was taken to task by some for relegating the love element in the opera to a secondary place. When it was revived in 1756 Cahusac made shifts of emphasis within the plot and it is this version as it first appeared, rather than that which involved yet further small changes later in the season, which is performed here. The libretto deals with the conflict between Good and Evil or Light and Darkness central to Zoroastrianism. Oromases, King of the Genies, represents the former and has Zoroastre as his high priest, while Abramane, high priest of the Temple of Darkness represents the latter. The chief protagonists in the drama are Zoroastre and Abramane who vie for power, glory and love; their characters are skilfully and often strikingly portrayed by Rameau, whose score is richly endowed with bold dashes of colour.
While Freemasonry's secrecy has always aroused distrust, its enlightened principles and belief in virtue, liberty, fraternity, and equality have attracted large numbers of intellectuals and artists; one of its most famous adherents was Mozart. However, his opera The Magic Flute was not the first to be inspired by its teachings but was preceded in 1749 by Rameau's Zoroastre. Its initial reception was so cool that Rameau and his librettist, Louis de Cahusac (a prominent Mason) undertook extensive revisions. The new version was produced–by coincidence or fate?–in 1756, the year of Mozart's birth, and became a great success.
Le Rameau d’Or de la Sybille de Cumes est une allégorie qui exprime l’intention musicale de Note Forget. Elle est construite autour de l’exploration introspective de ce qu’ils sont en tant que groupe mais exhume tout autant leurs influences individuelles. Pour se faire ils ont choisi de travailler une matière ondoyante, un corpus de compositions qui joue sur les contrastes et les nuances tout en essayant de conserver une teinte particulière.
Cette atmosphère méditative insiste sur les mesures à trois temps pour imprégner l’aspect cyclique.
France’s leading young harpsichordist performs works by two masters of the French Baroque. No surprises there, perhaps … but the harpsichordist in question is Jean Rondeau and the album is called Vertigo. It conceives the harpsichord in vividly theatrical terms. Vertigo takes its name from a dramatic, rhapsodic piece by Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, who, along with Jean-Philippe Rameau, forms the focus of this album. If Rameau (1683–1764) is the better-known composer today, especially admired for such operatic masterpieces as Hippolyte et Aricie and Platée, the younger Royer (1705–1755) was also a major figure in his time, rising to become master of music at the court of Louis XV. Both Rameau and Royer excelled in keyboard music and in works for the stage. As Jean Rondeau says: “These two illustrious composers battled for the top spot at the Opéra.” He describes them as “two magicians, two master architects, amongst the most wildly imaginative and brilliant of their era … Two composers who also tried to capture echoes of grand theatre with the palette offered by their keyboard.
This video was recorded live at performances of the original version of 'Dardanus' (1739) given at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux in April 2015, in a production by Michel Fau and choreography by Christopher Williams. Raphaël Pichon, the Ensemble Pygmalion and a peerless line-up of soloists received unanimous acclaim from public and press alike. “van Mechelen rises splendidly to his major dramatic interventions and Florian Sempey as his rival Antenor is commanding and resonant. Michael Fau’s production with effective use of gesture and dance, and Emanuel Charles’s highly coloured, stately sets make for a very handsome visual presentation … Pygmalion provides vigorous and expert orchestral accompaniment, and Raphael Pichon’s assured direction secures superb coordination with the soloists and the firmly focused chorus.” (BBC Music Magazine)