Rameau’s compositional stages included early keyboard works, followed by operas not started until the age of 50 (!), taking a break close to age 60 in order to create the five books of Pieces de clavecin en concerts, which really refer to pieces done in ensemble as opposed to solo harpsichord. These are not Italianate at all, but inundated with a French sensibility where the harpsichord is the be-all and end-all of the proceedings, the accompanying violin and viola da gamba (or flute and second violin, which the composer provided for) ornate and involved yet still not central. This was a natural progression for the composer who had already set a number of solo harpsichord pieces according to descriptive form where the music follows its own natural path in terms of the basic dances that he uses as a foundation.
Pancrace Royer's First Book of Harpsichord Pieces demonstrates how much the harpsichord tried to change to meet the challenge of the upstart pianoforte. These works push the instrument to its technical limits, showing an astonishing variety and quality of music.Alexander Bryce
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Blandine Verlet is one of the last living legends of the harpsichord. After a few years of absence from the recording studio, she makes her debut here on the Aparte label with a program dedicated to the harpsichord music of Francois Couperin. Recorded on a sumptuous Hemsch instrument from 1751, the set includes a fascinating selection of Ordres (suites), some of which eschew the commonly used Baroque dances and substitute movements with programmatic titles such as ''Les Amusements,'' ''Les Chinois,'' ''La Convalescente'' and ''La Visionnaire.'' The cover of the disc features a highly evocative portrait of Verlet by the American painter H. Craig Hanna.
Gramophone-Award-winning harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has recorded Rameau's Pièces de clavecin in the historic setting of the Music Room at Hatchlands Park in Surrey. This is a masterclass for the instrument, confirming this young artist as a truly great player: in the words of International Record Review his technique is beyond criticism and his inherent musicianship goes far deeper than mere surface understanding it is difficult not to warm to such a musician'. This double album comprises the whole of Rameau's output of keyboard suites, and Esfahani rejoices in its wealth of genius, its excitement and drama. Rameau is a composer whose revival is ongoing, and his unique combination of the witty and the cerebral, the light and the curmudgeonly, abounds throughout his harpsichord music.