Notes and Editorial Reviews
Premier livre de pièces pour clavecin
Yago Mahúgo (hpd)
BRILLIANT 94479 (61:57)
For someone who is more an obscure name in a lexicon, Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer has achieved something of a presence, albeit not with what he was famous for during his lifetime. Born in Turin as the son of an army officer, he was educated there and in Paris by François Couperin, who happened to be his cousin. By 1725 he had established himself in Paris, where he was
style="font-style:italic">maître de musique
to the children of Louis XV. Indeed, this, his only set of original harpsichord works, was dedicated to “Mesdames,” the daughters of the King. In 1748 he was appointed as director of the Concerts spirituels, a post he held until his death. During the peak of his career he focused on both ballet and opera, which makes him somewhat of an anomaly in the French musical establishment of the time, particularly considering his pedagogical occupation.
While he did arrange some of his stage music for the keyboard, this set of works (labeled “Premiere” although there was never a second volume) composed in 1746 is the only one written expressly for the instrument. The dedication above probably demonstrates their original purpose, but publication meant another source of extra income. The influence of Couperin is evident in the characteristic titles and the layout of the suite of movements. Where it differs is that the use of ornamentation is nowhere quite as precise. Indeed, these display a more interesting sensitivity in evoking the subject matter. Royer himself noted that they varied from “tender to lively, from the simple to the tumultuous,” which is an apt description. “L’Incertaine,” for example, has uncertain cadential figures, making the music wander seeking a resolution through one ending after the other in an almost perpetual motion fashion. The preceding “Tambourin” (divided into two parts) has a powerful drone and driving rhythm. “La Bagatelle” is like a superficial conversation between genteel ladies, each answering in turn with banal lines that slow rhythmically for emphasis, as if they were gossiping. The turning motive of “La Remouleuse” or “knife grinder,” keeps going in ostinato fashion, as if the whetstone were continually in motion. Even the slowing for a cadenza is followed by an increasing motion as the wheel spins back up to speed. The rondeau “Le Vertigo” has curiously modulating harmonies with hesitant stops and wild tempo changes that sound decidedly percussive. It is like a dizzy person walking along a wall over an abyss, with moments of balance and others of insane fear. The final “March of the Scythians” is based upon a rolling motive that is part ornamentation and part exotic theme that moves in an insistent, almost relentless pattern. Harpsichordist Christophe Rousset, who recorded this music back in 2007 for L’Oiseau lyre, found another autonomous work, the
Chasse de Zaide
, which he gave to the present performer, in essence passing the torch to this recording. It is a decisive compound meter work with full voicing.
The one thing that strikes one about Yago Mahúgo’s performance is its masculine strength. There is nothing effete about his often powerful style of playing. He uses the instrument to its extreme, particularly in the faster movements, such as the aforementioned “Tambourin.” His is a far more brilliant interpretation than Rousset’s, though there is nothing wrong intrinsically with the latter’s either. For my preference, this sort of music requires a deft and powerful approach, for which Mahúgo serves perfectly. This should be seen as a fine disc, which one would be proud to have in his/her collection.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
La chasse de Zaïde by Joseph Nicolas P. Royer
Yago Mahugo (Harpsichord)
Written: 1739; France
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