The keyboard works of Jean-Philippe Rameau have not been played often on a modern piano. It will not do to claim, as does the copywriter of the back-cover text here, that the comparative neglect of Rameau's keyboard music is due to this fact; harpsichordists, with their growing body of performance insights, have tended indeed to rediscover composers. The problem is simply that the aesthetic of Rameau's smaller pieces, whose courtly formality is combined with a certain spirit of intellectual experimentation, remains a tough nut to crack in an age that values neither formality nor intellect. This said, recordings of Rameau (and of Couperin) on the piano have begun to appear. The Pièces de clavecin en concerts are claimed to have been recorded here for the first time on the piano. The harmonic density of this music -- it is really in the piano music that one hears Rameau applying the farther reaches of the system of tonal harmony that he did so much to demonstrate -- is sufficient to support moody, Romantic interpretations like the one by British pianist Stephen Gutman heard here. It is commonplace to say that the mark of a great composer is the ongoing openness of the composer's music to fresh interpretations, and this one is more than listenable as long as the listener is OK with the idea that he or she is not really hearing Rameau. It is the ornamentation above all that is clearly associated with the harpsichord in Rameau; the piano tends to turn Rameau's complex ornaments into blobs of clustered tones. Give Gutman credit: he never tries to make the piano sound like a harpsichord, and he does what he has to do to get through the music on a piano -- which includes simplifying some of the ornaments. Gutman alters the musical text in other ways as well. He switches the order of a few of the short movements that make up Rameau's suites, and he discards the ordered dance rhythms that the harpsichord brings to Rameau in favor of amorphous tempi that flirt lightly with rubato without quite abandoning the basic beat. The speculative quality in Rameau can stand up to Gutman's playing and, for some, will even be enhanced by it, but there is, paradoxically, more to Rameau than can be revealed on a piano. This interpretation isn't just for people who like Glenn Gould's Bach -- it's for those who like Bach filtered through Busoni and Horowitz.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Premier livre de pièces de clavecin, for harpsichord|
|Pièces de clavecin avec une méthode sur la mécanique des doigts, for harpsichord|
|Pièces de clavecin en concerts, for harpsichord, violin (or flute) & viola da gamba (or second violin)|
|Les Paladins, comédie lyrique|