Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin:
; Allemande in a; Courante in a; Sarabande in A;
La Dauphine. Pièces de clavecin en concerts
(trans. Sempé, Fortin): La Coulicam; La Livri; La Forqueray; La cupis; La pantomime.
Les Indes galantes:
Air pour les esclaves africains.
Premier livre de
clavecin: No. 1.
L’entretien des Muses; Les cyclopes.
Skip Sempé (hpd); Olivier Fortin (hpd)
PARADIZO 5 (58:56)
DVD with performances and interviews with Sempé
Harpsichordist Skip Sempé, one of the more interesting American instrumentalists to have nurtured a successful career in Europe over recent decades, founded the Paradizo label in 2006. His new release under its imprimatur is a selection of 16 pieces by Jean-Philippe Rameau, including a cross section of the four published collections of solo pieces juxtaposed with two-harpsichord transcriptions of excerpts from the
Pièces de clavecin en concerts
, the latter in a particularly felicitous collaboration with Olivier Fortin.
These deliciously evocative performances run the full gamut of Rameau’s seemingly inexhaustible gifts of characterization. The dance movements, ranging from the charm and lilt of the menuets to the restrained elegance of the Courante (both from the 1728 set), are sure-footed and natural, yet so kinesthetically alluring that it’s difficult to sit still listening to them. And, surely as Rameau intended, the descriptive pieces conjure self-contained worlds of the most apt characterization. “La Dauphine,” for instance, is all hauteur and grandeur while the wistfully plaintive “L’Entretien des Muses” unfolds with touching intimacy. If Sempé’s exuberance leads him to some puzzling interpretive decisions on occasion—such as the rushed fanfare figurations of “La triomphante” that almost suggest frantic flight or the antic grotesqueries of “Les cyclopes” that narrowly skirt rhythmic incoherence—one senses that these were considered choices, arrived at with full consciousness and integrity.
Yet, overwhelmingly, this is a program as thoughtful in conception as it is brilliant in execution. Sempé’s many and varied attack and release strategies lend his playing both an air of freshness and a piquant audacity perfectly suited to Rameau. These qualities are only amplified when Sempé and Fortin (a superlative harpsichordist in his own right) play together. The regal “La Forqueray” is as delightful a sampling of the unique capabilities of two keyboards as one is likely to encounter. One is almost tempted to say that “La cupis” is even more beautiful in this version than in the original. Meanwhile, the vivacious spontaneity Sempé and Fortin bring to “La pantomime” is simply irresistible, its textures the musical equivalent of the finest gold brocade.
Recorded in 2006, the disc’s technical values are extremely high, conveying all the ambient luster of the instruments. The booklet notes are formatted as an interview with Sempé, and deal with larger issues of Rameau interpretation rather than specifics of the individual pieces. A dual-format bonus DVD features Sempé and Fortin collaborating in “La cupis” and “La pantomime,” and Sempé in solo pieces by Armand-Louis Couperin, Chambonnières, and Royer. I have not enjoyed a Rameau disc so much since Marc Minkowski’s cunning compilation of excerpts from Rameau opera and ballet, with Les Musiciens du Louvre (DG 447802). Warmly recommended to general listeners as well as to enthusiasts of the French Baroque.
FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
Works on This Recording
La Dauphine by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Written: 1747; France
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