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.
Leonhardt's performances of Louis Couperin's works have long been particularly admired, and here he does not disappoint. He seems to relish the expressive opportunities afforded by the Prelude and in the lyrical Allemande conveys a precious element of nostalgia hidden within the dance. The first Courante conjures up vivid images of dancers, so physical are his perfectly timed lifts, reminding us that when Louis Couperin was composing, dancing was still very much a live tradition, practised by all courtiers, not just the professionals at the Opera. From the first statement of the concluding Chaconne (as admirable for its craftsmanship and inspiration as Couperin's unmeasured Prelude) the listener is drawn willingly into its inexorable ebb and flow […]
– Gramophone [7/1988]