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Christophe Rousset in Concert

available at Amazon
Froberger, Suites de clavecin, C. Rousset
(Naïve, 2010)

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L. Couperin, Suites de Clavecin, C. Rousset
(Aparte, 2010)

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J.-P. Rameau, Les Indes Galantes, C. Rousset
(Naïve, 2009)
We are big fans of the harpsichord playing of Christophe Rousset around here. The French harpsichordist and conductor has a vast discography to his name, with discs of music by a startling range of composers, some largely unknown, most of them excellent. As much as we love his playing and have savored so many of his recordings, we have yet to review him in concert, with only a near-miss when he played on the Estate Musicale Chigiana during my summer in Siena a few years ago. That is all about to change, as Christophe Rousset will play two concerts in Washington this weekend: first at La Maison Française this evening (April 12, 7:30 pm) and tomorrow afternoon at the Library of Congress (April 13, 2 pm), with two completely different programs. At the French Embassy Rousset offers a concert called Éloge de l’ombre (In Praise of Shadows), which opens with a pavane by Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (c. 1601-1672), followed by three suites that all end in a tombeau (a tribute by one composer to another, dead composer), by Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667), Louis Couperin (c. 1626-1661), and Jean-Henry d'Anglebert (1628-1691), the last one ending with a tombeau to Chambonnières. At the Library of Congress, Rousset plays a program he describes as a "keyboard travelogue," with dances and other pieces by François Couperin (1668-1733) and Jean-Philippe Rameau, all representing exotic locations and nationalities, "from Peru to China and the Far East."

Rousset recorded some of these pieces a while ago, but at left are a few of the recent recordings that include music to be featured on his Washington concerts. Rousset will play a Froberger suite from his earlier CD of that composer's music, but he has recently released a disc of more suites from Froberger's extensive output. Froberger was from Stuttgart, but because he worked much of his career at the imperial court in Vienna, musicologist Guido Adler featured his music prominently in the collection of music he edited, Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österrreich. His distillation of the French style brisé kind of dances into a suite -- Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, [Optional], Gigue (although Froberger did not always have all of these slots, or have them in this order) -- had a major influence on subsequent composers in German-speaking countries. One part of the appeal of Rousset's recordings is that he has made them on a series of interesting historical instruments -- on the Froberger disc and others, instruments now in the museum of the Cité de la Musique in Paris (in this case, a 1652 Couchet harpsichord here). The result is playing that is not only pleasing, musical, diverting, and affecting -- but with lessons to be learned by matching historical music to an instrument like that for which it was likely destined. The 12th suite is especially moving, with the first movement given over to a lament on the death of Ferdinand IV (eldest son of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III), who died of smallpox in his 20s. At the end of the lament, Froberger has the right hand rise up the keyboard in a C major scale, ending at the highest C, where he drew a bunch of heavenly clouds in the manuscript.

The harpsichord music of Louis Couperin, the uncle of François Couperin who was mentored by Chambonnières himself, is becoming more familiar to audiences, heard recently in concerts by Blandine Rannou and Mitzi Meyerson, for example. At La Maison Française, Rousset will play this composer's F major suite, and his recorded performance of the work is embedded below. The "travelogue" program at the Library of Congress will conclude with a section of one of the strangest pieces in the Baroque repertoire, the fourth suite from Rameau's own transcription of the music from his own opera-ballet Les Indes Galantes. This arrangement has been recorded before, but some of the pieces in the fourth suite appear impossible to play on the harpsichord -- especially the Ritournelle, written on three staves, and the Adoration au Soleil (Adoration of the Sun), written on four staves. Rousset plays everything, except one tiny introductory piece, on a mostly unaltered 1761 Jean-Henri Hemsch harpsichord.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

link shared with his FB page.