“A Basket of Wild Strawberries” = Selection of Keyboard Works of RAMEAU – Tzimon Barto, piano – Ondine ODE 1067-2, 75:56 ****:
A number of contemporary pianists, at least as far back as Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) have enjoyed playing the harpsichord works of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) on the modern keyboard, savoring their gentle, noble ethos and organic use of ornamentation. Those who favor the original harpsichord sonority can recall the wiles of Igor Kipnis in this rich music. American pianist Tzimon (nee John) Barto has chosen twenty-one pieces from among the various livres and collections of Rameau, exploiting their color and harmonic relations. Often, the pieces, like the Gigue en rondeau I, reveal a dignified tenderness of feeling. Four of the selections–Le Rappel des oiseaux, Tambourin, Les Niais de Sologne et Deux Doubles, and Gavotte et Six Doubles–are old, familiar pieces to those who know inscriptions by Casadesus and more recently, Mordecai Shehori. Barto cushions the staccato, percussive elements in Rameau’s tablature with pedal and the rounded ends of his fingers, as in Gigue et rondeau II and Musette en rondeau. The staple, Song of the Birds, comes close to the spirit of Scarlatti in playful invention.
In the meditative selections–La Villageoise, Les Tendres Plaintes, Les Soupirs–Barto captures the refined stasis of which Rameau is capable, the delicate, harplike tracery and distilled elegance of the composer’s soul. Barto plays these works as studies in diaphanous pianissimo. Pieces like Les Niais de Sologne and La Joyeuse bring out the courtier in Rameau’s spirit, the cavalier’s mask which moves from coy intimacy to dazzling virtuosity. Barto concludes with the Suite in A Major (1728), a set of six pieces which opens with a long, stately, intimate Allemande and concludes with the ubiquitous Gavotte and Six Doubles in A Minor. Les Trois Mains indeed exploits three-voice effects, a kind of pre-Schumann spider’s web etude. After a warbling Sarabande, we hear two character-pieces, Fanfarinette and La Triomphante, colors invoking Watteau and Chardin, respectively. The marcato e staccato opening of the Gavotte announces readily that a colorful and bravura ride awaits us to conclude this most sensitive survey of a master of the French Baroque style, whose audacities and intensities prefigure colorists and dramatists from Beethoven to Debussy.
— Gary Lemco