Though Rameau was primarily known during the latter part of his life in Paris as a composer of operas, ballets and cantatas, he found time to create some 60-odd works for the clavecin. Strangely, although for most of the first 35 years of his life he was a church organist in various towns in France (and was so thin he was described as looking like an organ pipe), he never wrote anything for that instrument.
When the first modern edition of Rameau’s keyboard works was published in 1895, the harpsichord had been forgotten, and it was felt all the ornaments were too hard to play and inappropriate on the piano, so they were omitted. Rameau had originally arranged the pieces, as was the custom, in groups in the same key. Only later were they arranged into the present suites.
The Suite in E minor includes the famous Tambourin among its nine pieces. The Hen (later orchestrated by Respighi) is the big hit of the G minor Suite, and the seventh piece of the Suite in A minor – a Gavotte – is followed by a half-dozen short Doubles or variations. They ascend in difficulty and virtuosity, concluding with some wild hand-crossing that is clearly intended for a double-manual harpsichord and not a piano.
While I’m not partial to the performance on the modern piano of such music originally written for the harpsichord, I must admit Hewitt does a marvelous job with the ornamentation and achieves a remarkable clarity of line without the odd harpsichord-imitation effects that were associated with Glenn Gould. The clarity and naturalness of the hi-res surround aids in the presentation of these innovative French keyboard works, as does the dulcet treble tone and bass richness of the Italian-made piano increasingly showing up on recordings today – the Fazioli.
– John Sunier