Alexandre Tharaud is a remarkable pianist who has assembled a far-from-conventional program of Bach transcriptions based on Italian concertos, all of which serve to frame scintillating performances of the German composer's own Italian Concerto BWV 971. In this, the major work on the disc, Tharaud's rendition must be accounted one of the most successful available. In the outer movements, he correctly avails himself of everyRead more pianistic tool at his disposal, including beautifully proportioned gradations in dynamics, to clarify the distinction between solo and tutti passages, and the result has even more structural clarity (and therefore expressive point) then most performances on harpsichord. The central andante shows Tharaud sensitive (as he is in all of these slow movements) to the need to cultivate a true cantabile style of phrasing, with ornamentation that is just that: an embellishment and not an excess of decoration that buries the long, lyrical melodic line.
There are many high points in the remaining works as well, but I have to give special mention to the Vivaldi Concerto in G minor BWV 975. The way Tharaud launches the work, gently, only gradually allowing the main tempo to emerge as the density of the writing increases, strikes me as absolutely brilliant and wholly in keeping with the character of the music, while his touch in the central Largo is breathtaking, the final bars simply exquisite. It's one of those movements that, taken out of context and played on the radio or in a film, could make this disc a runaway best-seller. The two Marcello-based concertos (BWV 974 and 981) make a well-contrasted pair, one on the standard fast-slow-fast pattern, the other in four movements with an opening Adagio. Vivaldi's short and peppy G major concerto BWV 973 makes a perfect conclusion, and there's even an encore, the Andante from BWV 979.
This last item, taken in tandem with the delicious Sicilienne from BWV 596, and the smartly placed Aria de la Pastorale from BWV 590 (between the Vivaldi G minor and the Bach Italian Concerto), show the care with which Tharaud has assembled this program, which makes an absolutely perfect, satisfying whole when played straight through. Toss in ideally warm and lucid recorded sound, and the result impresses me as one of the finest Baroque keyboard recitals in many years, a masterpiece of programming and execution that will deliver hours and hours of listening pleasure. You will be enchanted. [3/1/2005]
Couperin seems to be making a pianistic splash lately, what with Angela Hewitt's excellent Hyperion recitals, and now this marvelous new release from Alexandre Tharaud. Playing Couperin on the piano certainly entails a certain "authenticity" in the wider sense, since back in the good old Baroque days this music would be adapted to whatever keyboard instruments happened to be on hand, despite the fact that it was clearly imagined for the harpsichord. In fact, the music sounds excellent on the modern grand, and quite different than you might expect.
The very opening, Les baricades mistérieuses, has a dark warmth of coloration utterly different from the sonority the harpsichord can produce. The music truly sounds "modern", particularly harmonically, almost like a Chopin prelude. In his booklet notes, Tharaud claims that the final piece, an encore in the form of Duphly's La Pothouïn, foreshadows Schumann, but much of this music would not sound out of place in the Romantic era.
Tharaud's selection of pieces, as intelligent as it is characterful, gives a superb sense of Couperin's gifts. From the more abstract movements, such as the Passacaille from 8th Ordre, to the sensitively overdubbed delights of Muséte de taverni (and not forgetting the colorful percussive additions to Bruit de guerre), you will find a remarkable range of mood and expression.
For my money, the gentle humor of Le dodo and the evocative sonorities of Le carillon de Cithére all project more successfully on the piano than on the harpsichord. But then, Tharaud deserves the lion's share of the credit in that he never tries to make his instrument sound like its predecessor. He uses the pedals poetically but with discretion, and he exploits the piano's wide dynamic range very effectively to bring out contrapuntal detail or to highlight some particularly interesting harmony or inner voice. In short, he has selected a 20-item program in which the piano's resources can be fully exploited in service of the music, and that's just what you hear for 65 delightful minutes. The gorgeous sonics, warm but crystal clear, complete an irresistible package.
Rameau was no stranger to the art of transcription, as two of the pieces in these suites testify — notably 'Les sauvages' from the Suite in G, which he refashioned into a show-stopping number in Les Indes galantes. But to put his harpsichord music successfully onto the piano?
If you thought it defied such an exercise you would be right, in the main, and no one could claim that what you get here is more than an interesting second-best. For while the piano is good at suggesting worlds beyond itself, its capacity for cantabile and for shadings of colour is all too likely to appear superfluous to requirements in Rameau and to blur the characteristics of the writing, if applied, which have more to do with the handling of mass and point than a flux of light and shade. And what piano could conjure up the eloquence and distinctiveness of a fine 18th-century French harpsichord?
If you were a young French pianist, however, and crazy about Rameau as Alexandre Tharaud is, that might not be the end of the story. Marcelle Meyer's old recordings would inspire you — 'one of the great ladies of the piano', as he describes her — and he acknowledges also the examples of William Christie, Christophe Rousset and the best harpsichordists of his own time in leading him to the belief that it is essential for a cultivated pianist today to immerse himself in Baroque music, and not only in Bach and Scarlatti.
Try him. He is a fiery as well as a sensitive and stylish player, and he plays from inside the music and always from the heart. He takes risks and I like him for being consistent in going for Rameau the poet and the free spirit as well as the intellectual aristocrat. For that, I follow him, even when the task of executing ornaments in a fast-moving line makes me think his cause is lost (it is not an option, I agree, to leave most of the ornaments out). He is pacy as well as imaginative and he makes you aware that there is as much intensity in Rameau as there is in Ravel.
Pièces de clavecin, Book 4: no 5, La Pothoüinby Jacques Duphly Performer:
Alexandre Tharaud (Piano)
Period: Baroque Written: 1768; France Date of Recording: 07/2006 Venue: Salle modulable de l'IRCAM, Paris, Franc Length: 5 Minutes 19 Secs.