CD+DVD Reviews

RAMEAU: “La Pantomime” – Harpsichord Pieces – Skip Sempé and Olivier Fortin, harpsichords – Paradizo CD + DVD

A pleasure to see the two harpsichordists in action and the lovely 18th century instruments.

Published on January 10, 2009

RAMEAU: “La Pantomime” – Harpsichord Pieces – Skip Sempé and Olivier Fortin, harpsichords – Paradizo CD + DVD

RAMEAU: “La Pantomime” – Harpsichord Pieces – Skip Sempé and Olivier Fortin, harpsichords – Paradizo CD + DVD PA0005, CD: 58:56; DVD: 2-sided, NTSC & PAL, 4:3 color, PCM Stereo, no region code [Distr. by Allegro]:

CD Program: Pieces de clavecin en Sol majeur/mineur; Pieces de clavecin en concert for 2 harpsichords; Pieces de clavecin en La Majeur/mineur; Pieces de clavecin en ré mineur; Pieces de clavecin en concerts for 2 harpsichords
DVD Program: COUPERIN: La Chéron; RAMEAU:  La Pantomime (2); CHAMBONNIERES: Sarabande; RAMEAU: La Cupi (2); ROYER: La Marche des Scythes

More and more labels are issuing DualDiscs like this one, as separate CD or SACD plus a video DVD of some of the same performances or similar music, so that one can experience the artists in action.  Sempé is a noted early music keyboardist, and has previously recorded some of the Scarlatti sonatas together with Fortin for this same label.

I viewed the DVD first. Sempé and Fortin play gorgeous double-keyboard instruments built in the 1980s after 18th century models. Sempé’s is artfully decorated around the keyboards and its lid is painted with one of the pastoral scenes so popular in the 18th century.  (I know a local harpsichordist who commissioned an artist to paint one on the lid of her instrument which included herself and her husband in the garden scene.)  Their venue is a glorious French Provincial salon, so it is a bit off to have both harpsichordists wearing beat-up jeans and informal garb. The selections are short but just long enough to maintain interest.  The two double harpsichord pieces are of course the most enjoyable.

The album’s title came from the very last of the 16 short pieces in Rameau’s five clavecin collections. Both it and the one just before it are also performed live on the DVD.  While about half of the pieces are named for dance steps such as the Allemande and Courante, the others have titles such as La Dauphin or Entrance of the Muses.  The note booklet features a short interview with Sempé, in which he distinguishes between the keyboard style of Rameau and that of his contemporary Francois Couperin. He finds Couperin the traditionalist, writing works for the French salon, while Rameau tending toward the more Italian operatic influence and was more likely to use newly invented and novel effects in his pieces.

The amount of ornamentation employed may seem excessive to those not versed in the French keyboard style of this period, but Sempé’s finger work is so fleet and dexterous, as well as accurate, that one soon falls under the spell.  It is a highly ornamented sound art that seems to emulate the highly ornamented visual designs of the period.  Sonics are clean and rich, without emphasizing overmuch the instrument’s mechanical sounds.  If all harpsichord recordings from the start sounded like this, perhaps detractors wouldn’t have formed their opinions about the instrument (a la Sir Thomas Beecham’s quote) sounding like skeletons “cavorting” on a tin roof.

 – John Sunier

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