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Rameau: Symphonies For 2 Harpsichords / Pierre Hantai, Skip Sempe

Rameau / Hantai / Sempe
Release Date: 09/12/2012 
Label:  Mirare   Catalog #: 164   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre HantaïSkip Sempé
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



RAMEAU (arr. Hantaï, Sempé) Symphonies for Two Harpsichords Skip Sempé, Pierre Hantaï (hpd) MIRARE 164 (75:00)


The theory presented in this album’s liner notes justifying these arrangements goes something like this:


(1) Rameau “invites us” to play his instrumental pieces on the harpsichord, since he himself did arrangements of much of Les Indes galantes for a Read more single harpsichord; and


(2) Though Rameau never did this again, some composers arranged the operatic music of others for a single harpsichord, and these sold well; therefore


(3) It is both natural and authentic to arrange Rameau’s orchestral music from his operas, and selections from his pièces de clavecin en concerts , into works for two harpsichords.


This logic leaves me unconvinced. I suspect it’s the lack of any mention of two harpsichord arrangements of French orchestral music during the early part of the 18th century. Other instruments were named at times. Couperin le Grand famously mentioned a pair of flutes, oboes, violins, or viols as possibilities in the prologue to his third book of harpsichord pieces, but not a pair of harpsichords, presumably for reasons of color and texture. Only in his remarks on his chamber work, L’Apothéose de Lully , are two harpsichords suggested. Rameau never did.


Does that mean it shouldn’t be done? By no means, only that there’s no Rubber Stamp of Authenticity for these arrangements. (The French would no doubt be pleased that any mention of rubber in this context is historically accurate. It was brought from Ecuador to the French Royal Academy of the Sciences in 1736, a year before Rameau composed his Castor et Pollux .) It works when done sensitively, and certainly better than Mozart or Vivaldi arranged for koto ensemble.


I commend Hantaï and Sempé for the most part on their arrangements. The chaconne from Dardanus shows just how much variety can be gotten out of trio textures, split treble and bass, and dialog between the two instruments; and pieces such as the “gavotte un peu lente” from Les Paladins , and the gavotte from Les Indes galantes , can sound ethereal when more delicate choirs are engaged. Similarly, the “menuets dans le goûts de la vièle” is as fragile as one could wish. I do, however, miss the variety of textures in most of the Pièces de clavecin en concerts excerpts, even when, as in La Marais and La Timide , the arrangements are handled gracefully.


Where I disagree most with the performers’ choices is when they leave trio textures, split treble and bass, and dialog, resorting instead to simple doubling. Aside from the overture to Pygmalion (where something very large is perfect), the effect is oddly not dissimilar to that of a 19th-century orchestra, when that kind of comparable power is unleashed in L’Agaçante , or the “air pour les Bostangis” from Les Indes galantes . The famous “tambourins en rondeau” is a loud jangle, approaching what Thomas Beecham once supposedly said in reference to the sound of the solo harpsichord: two skeletons copulating on a tin roof, during a thunderstorm.


One area of welcome surprise comes in the performance. When I last reviewed a release featuring Sempé ( A French Collection, Fanfare 33:3), he seemed lost in self-indulgence. Nearly everything was taken at manic speeds that even left his formidable technique behind on occasion. Phrasing was eccentric and pulled about, with some notes lengthened, and many others shortened to the point that the music sounded on occasion like skipping on a dirty CD. Not here; not by any means. Between them, Hantaï and Sempé provide subtly flexible, reasonably paced performances, with slower ones, such as the “air tender en duo” from Dardanus , reveling in a sympathetic and stylish application of ornamentation.


Whether you’ll want this release or not depends, then, less on the performance than on the arrangements. As I see it, they are never less than interesting, though several flatten the richer instrumental palette of the originals, and others reduce the sound of the instrument to something nearly incoherent. You might feel otherwise. Chacun à son goût.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

1. Les Indes galantes: Overture by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
2. Les Indes galantes: Musette en rondeau by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
3. Les Indes galantes: Menuet no 1 & 2 by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
4. Les Indes galantes: Tambourin no 1 & 2 by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
5. Platée: Musette by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
6. Les Indes galantes: Air Polonais by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
7. Les Indes galantes: Air pour les Esclaves africains by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
8. Zoroastre: Menuet et rondeau by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
9. Dardanus: Chaconne by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1739/1744; France 
10. Zoroastre: Sarabande by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
11. Les Paladins: Air très gay by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
12. Les Indes galantes: Gavotte by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
13. Les Indes galantes: Air pour les Bostangis by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
14. Pygmalion: Overture by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1748; Paris, France 
15. Hippolyte et Aricie: Menuet by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
16. Pièces de clavecin en concerts: 2nd Concert - no 3, L'agaçante by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1741; France 
17. Dardanus: Prelude by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
18. Les fêtes d'Hébé: Tambourin en Rondeau by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1739; Paris, France 
19. Platée: Menuets dans le goût de la vièle by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
20. Pièces de clavecin en concerts: 4th Concert - no 1, La pantomime by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1741; France 
21. Pièces de clavecin en concerts: 4th Concert - no 2, L'indiscrette by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1741; France 
22. Dardanus: Air tendre en duo by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
23. Les Indes galantes: Les Sauvages by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
24. Pièces de clavecin en concerts: 3rd Concert - no 2, Rondeau gracieux I in A minor "La timide" by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1741; France 
25. Dardanus: Tambourins I and II by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1739/1744; France 
26. Dardanus: Prelude by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
27. Les Indes galantes: Chaconne by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735/1761; France 
28. Les Paladins: Gavotte un peu lente by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
29. Pièces de clavecin en concerts: 5th Concert - no 5, La Marais by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Performer:  Pierre Hantaï (Harpsichord), Skip Sempé (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1741; France 

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