This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Reviews for recordings in this collection:
In the last decade, or so, it has begun to be fully realized that, for all its astonishing ingenuity, the work is also something to be enjoyed by both player and listener. Some artists, notably those listed above, have helped to change public perception of the Variations, and Rousset joins their number in presenting the work as something that would have entertained the insomniac Count Keyserling and not sent him to sleep again.
As the proverb has it, it's the first step that counts; and nowhere is this more true than here. Even Pinnock, whose account of the Variations is stimulatingly lively, states the theme at a funereal pace quite out
of keeping with what follows. Rousset treats it as the sarabande it is, with the stateliness of that dance yet with a subtle freedom. From then on, the music exudes cheerfulness — the first variation has an engaging light-hearted energy — and speeds are fast throughout (which incidentally allows all repeats to be included on the disc). Variation 7 is a real gigue (as it has now been established to be), and the fughetta of Var. 10 is positively chirpy: the alla breve Var. 22, crisply articulated, has an invigorating spring. There is no undue slowing-down for the minor-key variations, and no sentimentalizing of the famous 'black pearl' Var. 25; but Rousset can bring a true affettuoso feeling to Var. 13. All the complex passagework of the Variations is nimbly and cleanly played: a slight overhang of resonance noticeable in the theme and at the start of the minor Var. 21 is undetectable elsewhere. Rousset feels no need to add extra ornamentation other than an occasional mordent or appoggiatura, and he observes the dotting conventions of the period, as in the upbeats of Var. 26 (though I was mildly surprised that he does not dot the two-semiquaver figure in the second half of Var. 13, to match the first half). There is a robust sound from the Hemsch instrument employed, and Rousset is sparing in changes of registration. I suppose some people may accuse him of a lack of gravitas overall, but to me this issue is extremely recommendable.
-- Gramophone [11/1995]
Perhaps I may start by commending the admirably warm but clean and natural sound secured by the producer (Chris Sayers)—even in a church (not far from Toulouse)—of the very fine Hemsch harpsichord of 1751 that Rousset has used before.
But equally basically, if not more so, Rousset, who has already won golden opinions for his Rameau, Froberger and Bach discs, proves a formidable challenger to his distinguished older rivals. Absolutely impeccable in his finger work and notably lucid in his phrasing, he has abundant vitality, while eschewing extremes of tempo (which prompted a few queries with Pinnock): he can be firmly rhythmic without becoming stiff, but he can also be flexible—there is freedom in the B fiat Sarabande, the D major's elaborate Allemande and, particularly, its Sarabande. Only his treatment of the chordal figure in the G major Preambulum struck me as artificial and unconvincing; and his A minor Sarabande is reluctant to flow, though he succeeds in making the far more complex E minor Sarabande cohere well. Rousset is splendidly vigorous in the B flat Courante, sprightly in the C minor's Rondeaux and sparkling in its invigorating Capriccio, crisply springy in the A minor's Corrente and bouncy in its Scherzo, and exuberant in the D major Courante. He takes the Gigues of the First and Third Partitas at a very restrained pace, brings drama to the opening of the C minor Sinfonia and the D major Ouverture (spikily double-dotted) and follows each with a perky and buoyant triple-time section.
In the matter of ornamentation he is the most conservative of all the players in the current catalogue: apart from some extra appoggiaturas in the G major Sarabande he adheres scrupulously to the text, not even varying repeats excepts for a couple of tiny variants in the C minor Allemande. Altogether these are extremely impressive and deeply musicianly performances: indeed, in my view they are the best set of the partitas now available.
-- Gramophone [9/1993]
ITALIAN CONCERTO, FRENCH OVERTURE, DUETTOS, CHROMATIC FANTASIA & FUGUE
Having been recently impressed by the young French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset's recording of Rameau's keyboard pieces (12/91), I approached this new issue with confident anticipation; and it proved to be wholly justified, since Rousset brings to Bach's music the same lucidity and feeling for well turned and well articulated phrases which characterized his Rameau. Technically, Rousset is an exceptionally secure player with a sharp ear for detail and the ability to project it to his audience. Perhaps what I like as much as anything in his playing is a freedom from selfconscious mannerisms which, for whatever reasons they may be present, can soon become a major irritant to a listener, especially on repeated hearing. Rousset's Italian Concerto is a straightforward, uncluttered reading with notably transparent textures and possessing a commendably modest virtuosity. This is not at all to say that the performance lacks subtlety but that virtually Rousset's entire technical and interpretative arsenal is placed at the service of the music with no quarter being given to exaggerated or misplaced gestures. It is, in short, a delicately poised performance with nicely judged tempos. I felt this especially in the Andante middle movement which moves at a graceful and relaxed pace allowing the music to breathe deeply; but the finale is pleasingly shaped too, with a rhetorical clarity and a taut but not rigid rhythmic pulse. It is true that few artists turn in bad performances of this justly popular piece but, equally, a wholly satisfying one is a scarce commodity. Rousset achieves an interpretation which is likely to satisfy readers for a considerable period of time.
The other great work in Part Two of Bach's Clavier-Ubung provides a quite different example of Bach's consummate skill in transferring orchestral forms to the keyboard. This time it is not a concerto but a French-style orchestral suite, the Overture in B minor, which is translated to the two-manual harpsichord. Rousset points up the contrasts between the occasional character of the overture itself and that of the succeeding dances with conviction and a feeling for poetry. The fugue of the overture is splendidly done with every detail in place and this extends to the remaining movements too, such as the concluding "Echo" where Bach's own effective dynamics are scrupulously observed.
The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue is treated thoughtfully by Rousset; I have heard more technically dazzling performances than this but few that have made greater sense of Bach's harmonically broad concept. Four Duettos, which closely correspond with Bach's better-known Two-Part Inventions, but which nevertheless were not specifically designated to the harpsichord, round off an impressive and satisfying recital. Recorded sound is admirably clear and ideally resonant, though I felt that some of the instrument's brightness was not quite picked up by the balance. The harpsichord by Henri Hemsch was built in Paris in 1751 and the print of Bach in the frontispiece of the booklet was engraved in Leipzig by August Weger in the middle of the last century. A fine issue.
-- Gramophone [5/1992]
Works on This Recording
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Christophe Rousset (Harpsichord)
Written: 1741-1742; Nuremberg, Germany
Notes: Composition written: Nuremberg, Germany (1741 - 1742).
Italian Concerto, BWV 971 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Christophe Rousset (Harpsichord)
Written: 1735; Leipzig, Germany
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