It is now some 12 years since William Christie made an excellent disc of Pancrace Royer's only published collection of harpsichord pieces (1746); and it was reissued recently on CD. Royer was a more prominent figure in French musical life than the comparative unfamiliarity of his name nowadays would suggest. He was an imaginative director of the Concert Spirituel, leader for several years of the Opéra orchestra, and a successful composer for the stage, as well. His ballet-héroIque, Zalde (1739) was especially popular and was still being performed in the 1760s. La Chasse do Zaide is the composer's own harpsichord arrangement of a "symphonie" in the opera and, in this new recital, Christophe Rousset appends it to the pieces of the 1746 publication. That, too, incidently contains a number of transcriptions by the composer of pieces from earlier stage works.
This recording by fine French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset exposes some music from beyond the famous names of the French Baroque. The central attraction is a pair of suites and three characteristic pieces by Louis Marchand, an organist at Versailles who is famous in musical history for having supposedly ducked an organ duel with J.S. Bach. His two suites recorded here were composed in 1702 and 1706, and thus are almost contemporary with the early Rameau Suite in A minor (1706), from his first book of keyboard suites. All the suites consist of a rhythmically free, quasi-improvised prelude followed by a series of stylized dances; three short character pieces by Marchand are also included as a sort of entr'acte.
The organ music of Louis Couperin, an uncle of François, clearly pointed toward the French High Baroque style and has received a good number of recordings, but his harpsichord music is less fortunate. This is largely because they're imperfectly understood, at both the macro and micro levels. This release by celebrated French keyboardist Christophe Rousset contains half a dozen works designated as suites, but those are entirely his own creation. They exist only in manuscript, grouped mostly by dance rhythm; there are some ground bass pieces and some preludes without bar lines in a separate group.
hristophe Rousset's first recording for Aparte, devoted to Louis Couperin, was received enthusiastically by public and critics alike and collected many distinctions in the international press, including a BBC Music Magazine Instrumental Choice. Since then he has continued to delight and excel both as harpsichordist and as director of Les Talens Lyriques. Now at the peak of his maturity, the artist presents Bach' musical testament: the Well-Tempered Clavier. Written 20 years after the first volume, Book II contains the musical and spiritual legacy of the composer. Christophe Rousset plays these pieces on the 1628 Ruckers harpsichord of Antwerp, one of the best examples of its kind in the world.
Basically the story of the opera centres around the tussle between good and evil, the good being personified in Zoroastre with his love for Amelite and the evil in the sorceror Abramante allied to Erinice, the sister of Amelite who also desires Zorostrate but is vengeful because of rejection.
Rameau was 66 when he composed this piece and it reflects his maturity with its sensuous and cleverly designed music. There are layers of interpretation which are easy to miss but the excellent one hour documentary gives a great introduction and should be viewed first, something I failed to do and so became somewhat perplexed about what was going on. Unfortunately the accompanying booklet gives no written synopsis, an silly omission as the 4 minute verbal description is next to useless. I extracted one from the net and it helped to explain what was going on.