Rameau: Pièces de clavecin en concerts - Häkkinen / Mattson / Perkola
Alba Records ABCD 318
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Pièces de clavecin en concerts
Aapo Häkkenen (harpsichord)
Petri Tapio Mattson (violin)
Mikko Perkola (viola da gamba)
Review by John Miller - September 15, 2012
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1784) was a towering composer of the French Baroque, known most for his operas. He was, however, a complete keyboardist, having trained and searched (in vain) for a significant organist's post, but using his skills as a formidable harpsichord player to entertain the growing middle class of Paris. After writing several sets of solo harpsichord pieces, in 1741 he produced the Piéces de Clavicin en Concerts which overturned the French tradition of a harpsichord being accompanied by a basso continuo, which realised a figured bass. Instead, he now had the harpsichord as primary solo, accompanied by two melody instruments. The ones he preferred were the Baroque violin and the viola da gamba, although he did say that the violin could be replaced by a flute, or, if required, the harpsichord could even play alone.
Such a change in tradition did not please every one; one witty detractor opined "We cannot resist pointing out here that the harpsichord is the only creature in this world that has been able to claim sufficient respect from other instruments to keep them in their place and cause itself to be accompanied in the full sense of the term!". As listening to this marvellous set of concerts (three movements, fast,slow, fast) will show, not only do the violin, gamba and harpsichord make a very attractive ensemble with beautiful blended tones, the players are each given complex and challenging parts which interweave and interact in a novel way. No doubt these new pieces would sorely stretch the skills of any any amateurs who wanted to play them.
As with his solo pieces, Rameau followed Couperin in making some of the movements descriptive of persons, animals or human habits by giving them evocative titles. Rameau, however, suggested that it was his friends who came up with the titles based on the music. For interpreters, this gives a great deal of scope for intuitive projection and characterisation within each title. In the Fifth Concert, he also plays homage to other French musicians, Forqueray and Marais, both associated with the gamba, which comes into its own here with some marvellous playing; more resinous and melodic than the often rather violent performances which seem to be fashionable.
This Finnish group have a great rapport and a sense of easy musical conversation with one another, as well as being stylish and happily motivated by the music. Häkkinen, Mattson and Perkola are also players in a number of well-known period instrument ensembles, so they have the required style and panache. Rameau's never-ending stream of great tunes and the wit, humour and sheer beauty of these unique Concerts made musicologists dub them as some of the most important and exciting French harpsichord music of the eighteenth century. They are effectively notes from the place and period, with gossip, caricature, satire, tip-toeing dancing masters, rustic clod-hoppers, knowing winks, sundry emotions of pathos, frustrated amours and a Parisian's love of life all musically encapsulated.
Alba engineers give the players a solidly believable presence within the warm, open acoustic of a smallish concert-hall which suggests a salon, thankfully not a church, producing effective intimacy without loosing any detail. Multichannel 5.0 is best, but the stereo balance is also excellent.
There is a solid rival to the present disc, Rameau: Pieces de Clavecin en Concerts - Podger/Pinnock/Manson, featuring three stalwarts of the British HIP scene. Although interpretations differ in detail, I would say that the Finns give no overall ground, and since the Channel recording is somewhat closer and less airy, their more open and relaxed sound might be preferable for some. Whichever you choose (both if you have the means!), the Piéces de Clavicin en Concerts are an absolutely essential part of any collection of Baroque music.
Copyright © 2012 John Miller and HRAudio.net