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Opera Lafayette Celebrates Rameau

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Harpsichordist Olivier Baumont
Jean-Philippe Rameau died in 1764, 250 years ago this year. Opera Lafayette is marking the year with two performances, one on either side of the anniversary (September 12). If you missed Wednesday night's "Salon"-style selection of chamber and vocal music, the better part of this double celebration remains for this fall, a staging of Rameau's Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, the first in the modern era, scheduled for October 6 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. As for the first part, heard last night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, it featured some welcome discoveries but also some regrettable shortcomings.

Starting with the good, there was French harpsichordist Olivier Baumont, whom we last reviewed at the Library of Congress ten years ago. From the composer's delightful body of keyboard music, he gave a graceful and varied performance of the A minor suite (1706), the opening of the prelude free and improvisatory in style, the Allemande not too fast and with notes inégales that were not mannered, and some pleasing embellishments on repeats, especially in the Courante. The two Sarabandes were not overly slow, with an interesting registration choice to distinguish the second one. On the second half, Baumont sat secondo to Andrew Appel's first harpsichord, for the composer's own transcription of some of the dance music from Les Indes Galantes, something that was as unexpected as it was delightful -- I am now searching for all the double-harpsichord arrangements I can find.

By comparison the other instrumental contributions to this concert were not nearly as fine, from the company's artistic director, Ryan Brown, on violin and Donna Fournier, who stepped in at the last minute on viol. This made the first of Rameau's Pièces de clavecin en concert and the accompaniment of some of the concert's vocal pieces somewhat disappointing. Four singers sang the various vocal parts, with airy soprano Gaële Le Roi impressing most, in an occasional cantata composed by Rameau for the feast day of St. Louis, a work brought to light about forty years ago by musicologist Mary Cyr. Laetitia De Beck Spitzer, Kelly Ballou, and baritone David Newman made mostly slender contributions to a few comic airs, plus three rather funny and complicated canons, the texts for most of which were risqué enough to be left out of the program. It was a charming but lightweight overview of some of Rameau's lesser works.

1 comment:

Andrew Appel said...

Im so glad you liked the two harpsichord work. In fact, these transcriptions were published by Rameau after the resounding failure of Les Indes. He didn't want to waste all that great music and fitted them for harpsichord. The realization of these works was done by Olivier and me. One needs to decide if the simple bass is played by both harpsichords or if you resort to idiomatic writing, using the solo pieces de clavecin as your guide. We incorporated many textures found in those pieces to enliven the duo.
There is little in the 2 harpsichord rep that is written out completely in France. F Couperin has a beautiful Allemande and there are other 3 staved works offered as two harpsichord works. (the Musettes de Choisi and Taverni). BUT Couperin suggests playing his trio sonatas for two harpsichords and Le Roux gives us 3 staved versions of his solo pieces to be played accordingly on 2 keyboards. These are very beautiful. There are works or Armand Louis Couperin as well, but those are pre-classical ones. The suggestion is that any trio sonata can be turned into a work for two harpsichords... I feel that revising the works with keyboard figuration is necessary and probably was done without thinking in the 18th century.