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Pancrace Royer by Christophe Rousset

available at Amazon
Pancrace Royer, Premier Livre de Pièces pour clavecin, C. Rousset

(released July 29, 2008)
Ambroisie (Naïve) AM 151

Online scores
Christophe Rousset surely needs no introduction, as conductor or as harpsichordist. Jens has already raved about Rousset's startling recording of Bach's Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann, and Rousset continues to release beautiful discs in a series for Ambroisie. The latest one is more esoteric, the first book of keyboard pieces by Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer (1705-1755), published in 1746. As he so often does, Rousset went out of his way to find a gorgeous and historically appropriate instrument, a Jean-Claude Goujon harpsichord updated (ravalé) by Jacques Joachim Swanen in 1784, borrowed from the collection of the Musée de la Musique. It produces and is recorded in ravishing sound.

Thanks to the online edition by Hermann Hinsch, this is a set of pieces I plan on getting to know on my own little harpsichord. Some of the pieces are easier than others, and the difficult ones sparkle with daring brio under Rousset's hands. He plays the "Tambourin des Matelots" with a ruffian's gusto, using more or less clipped articulation to make differences on repeats and with drone-like evenness to the repeated left-hand chords. The crazy toccata of "Le Vertigo" features a colorful succession of panicky repeated chords and flighty runs, and the tour de force of the final movement, "La Marche des Scythes," is an arrogant, forceful returning theme alternating with a wild extravagance of frenetic arpeggiation. Rousset judiciously applies historically informed performance ideas, like double-dotting in the "Allemande" and notes inégales in "L'Incertaine" (Rousset may have interpreted the indication of "Marqué" as dotted rhythms, since he plays it pretty smoothly otherwise).

"Les Tendres Sentiments" is perhaps a little too schmaltzy, with beat-obscuring rubato stretching out the movement to over seven minutes. By contrast, the playful "Bagatelle" is a high point, with Rousset's giocose treatment of the movement's recurring joke, short notes that displace the downbeat, enhanced by some echo effects by manual switching (he also adds nice rhythmic arpeggiations of the final chords in the "Suite de la Bagatelle"). If anything, Rousset is stingy with ornamentation, although all of Royer's marked embellishments are handled scrupulously. It would be nice to hear more embellishments added, especially in the several rondeau pieces, where the A section is repeated so many times. A good example of what this might have yielded is the little graceful cadenza interpolated by Rousset at the Lent marking in "L'Aimable," just before the final return of A section. The only possible change made by Rousset is the addition of repeats to "La Rémouleuse" (at least they are not indicated in Hinsch's edition). That movement has the only title that might be too obscure for most English readers: the word refers to someone whose business is to sharpen knives and other utensils.


Pancrace Royer's Premier Livre de Pièces pour clavecin
(Alessandra Iovino, harpsichord -- see the other movements)

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