Notes and Editorial Reviews
AIRS D’OPÉRA ACCOMMODÉS POUR LE CLAVECIN
Catherine Zimmer (hpd)
LENCELADE 1001 (76:19)
RAMEAU, BALBASTRE, MONDONVILLE, MONSIGNY, BALBASTRE, FERRAND, REBEL, D. SCARLATTI
In the past I’ve reviewed Rameau’s music from a single
anonymously arranged by a contemporary publisher for harpsichord (
, Christophe Rousset; Ambroisie 152), and modern arrangements of Rameau’s operatic and harpsichord music for two harpsichords (
Symphonies for Two Harpsichords
, Skip Sempé and Pierre Hantaï; Mirare 164). Here we have yet another arrangement for a single harpsichord, but by a much younger musical colleague of Rameau’s. Claude Balbastre (1724–1799) came by his interest in the older composer initially through family ties. Both hailed from Dijon, where Rameau’s father, then Balbastre’s father, then Rameau’s youngest sibling, Claude, held the organ post at Saint-Etienne. Claude Rameau also taught music to Balbastre after the death of the latter’s father. When Balbastre eventually settled in Paris in 1750, Rameau was instrumental in securing him contacts and employment.
None of this would necessarily mean that Balbastre—who became the celebrated chief organist at Notre-Dame and the Royal Chapel, as well as harpsichord teacher to Marie Antoinette—really liked Rameau’s operas, if we didn’t have the evidence in the form of a manuscript in his own hand. It contains 40 airs by French composers and two works by Italians; and judging from the earliest and latest content, was started at least by 1739 (the debut of Rameau’s
) and concluded not before 1761 (the debut of Monsigny’s
On ne s’avise jamais de tout
). Everything is haphazardly entered with no apparent order: not stylistic, temporal, or alphabetical by composer or work. It is an interesting collection, not least because of the arbitrarily chosen new titles for several pieces, the presence of three works by Balbastre that have turned up nowhere else, and the appearance of an
Air de Scarlaty
that is actually Scarlatti’s unadventurous Sonata in C Major, K 95. (It may have even been chosen by Balbastre for that very reason. It’s much more like a contemporary
air de la opéra-comique
than just about anything else in Scarlatti’s large, surviving keyboard output, and the frivolous turns it acquires from Balbastre would seem to confirm this.) Although such composers as Monsigny, Mondonville, Rebel, Rousseau, and others appear, by far the largest number are resettings of selections from Rameau’s operas.
Being not merely an organist but first organist for one of the finest Baroque instruments, where the congregation expected to be thoroughly entertained, Balbastre thought in orchestral terms. His left hand doubles the octaves in many pieces, his right adds ornaments, and there are a few points suggesting register changes—though none of this changes the music substantially. Finally, the collection includes two of Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer’s own transcriptions for harpsichord of excerpts from his operas, and a third,
, whose origins are unknown. If Royer’s allemande from his
ballet-héroique, Le Povoir de l’Amour
, stays close to its original, the march from
is treated almost as a hybrid rondeau-passacaglie, with wildly impressive batteries of arpeggiated chords at one point.
Judging from this recording, Catherine Zimmer has a strong technique and a good grasp of harpsichord style in French baroque music, especially the correct sounding of ornaments. She is not over-reticent when it comes to making an impression: the second section of Rebel’s gavotte (the one of two on this album marked
, rather than the other, marked
) benefits from the relatively fast tempo and steady rhythms she brings to its massed chords. The sheer volume of sound she gets in this and a few other selections—Balbastre’s own allemande, for instance, which is very much
à la Turk
—are just plain fun, especially when, as here, she increases speed upon repetition. There’s no discussion of the (well-tempered, by the sound of it) harpsichord created by the workshop of Martine Argellies, but clearly it’s a versatile instrument notable for its resonance.
Very occasionally, as occurs once in Rameau’s overture to
, Zimmer places a hold at a non-concluding cadence longer than would seem appropriate, given the insistent rhythms of the passage. More often, she pushes a bit too fast, and phrases woodenly. The second of those two mentioned gavottes by Rebel seems hardly gracious when played as stiffly as it is, and at a relatively quick tempo. The repetitively played broken chords in the left hand of Mondeville’s Air sound awkward when taken so rigidly. Another Air, by Monsigny, is moderately better, but one can imagine pieces like these originating in the French tradition of the lute-accompanied song, where greater flexibility was expected.
Finally, Zimmer notes that she made the decision not to record any manuscript selections from works premiered after 1750, since she’s playing a copy of a harpsichord made that year. I can’t even begin to express all I find wrong with that statement.
In short, this is an interesting recital, at its delightful best in its more extroverted material, weakest in the sighs and hesitancies of the
. Your choice.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
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